Two new multi-purpose areas opened in Deerfield Hall intended for multi-faith, meditation, and study purposes have been deemed a “band-aid solution” to address calls for additional multi-faith space on campus.

Officially opened on October 14 and located in Deerfield Hall next to rooms 3026 and 3078 on the third floor, and next to rooms 4026 and 4078 on the fourth floor, the new spaces in Deerfield Hall are located next to a pair of large bay windows, and include a pair of couches, and a small bench for storage purposes. The RAWC donated yoga mats and the Muslim Students’ Association donated prayer mats.

According to UTM’s equity and diversity officer, Nythalah Baker, the purpose of the new “reflection bays” is to facilitate “shared use by individuals quietly reflecting, meditating, praying, relaxing, or studying”. Baker added that these spaces “are simple in their design to be comfortable for all”.

Maleeha Baig, president of the MSA, described the new space as a “good addition” but a “band-aid solution”.

“It could be built on, but is a good step forward in a direction where people can have better spiritual and mental health,” said Baig, who described the new space as “very small, and the area that they gave us is where people usually study, and there are couches there”.

Baig claims the space is “inconvenient”, adding that “every time I’ve gone there so far, there have been people studying, and I don’t want to kick them out”.

The new reflection spaces are an addition to other multi-faith spaces located at UTM, which includes one adjacent to the Student Centre, next to the new location of the UTMSU convenience store, and two rooms in CCT. Unlike the two gender-specific prayer rooms in CCT, the new space is co-ed.

In an interview with The Medium, Baig noted problems with the multi-faith rooms in CCT, specifically due to there not being enough space, causing line-ups. Baig compared the new space to other spaces on campus, stating that “the other spaces are nice because they are closed off, and you can close the door and relax”. This contrasts to the new space in Deerfield Hall, which Baig describes as “an open concept”, adding that this “can be nice as well, but can also be disturbing if you just want to get into the zen mode”.

When discussing the multi-purpose use of these spaces, Baig acknowledged benefits the new space allows.

“It’s really good […] not everyone is going to go pray, people just want to cleanse their minds and relax for a few minutes between classes,” said Baig who added that the multi-purpose use of this space functioned similarly to the multi-faith centre at the St. George Campus, which grants students the space for activities that include prayer, as well as meditation and yoga.

In 2012, a new UTMSU committee called the multi-faith steering committee was formed with the purpose of creating a “safe space for faith related discussions and an evaluation of spaces for worship at UTM, seeking additional spaces for such discussions as well as interfaith and faith-specific events”.

Published in a 2013 report now available on the UTMSU website, the committee determined that more multi-faith space needed to be added to UTM’s campus.  At the time the report was published, UTM had over 95 clubs, with over 10 dedicated to faith-based organization.

According to Baker, the report was not brought forward to UTM administration; however, Baker added that “UTMSU and student faith groups have indicated the need for more multi-faith spaces on campus, which we have been able to identify through these multi-purpose lounges.”

The Medium reached out to UTMSU VP equity Zehra Ramsha multiple times for comment on the opening of the new space and past lobbying efforts made by UTMSU to secure new multi-faith space on campus.  Instead, UTMSU president Ebi Agbeyegbe provided comments to The Medium on the multi-purpose/multi-faith space.

“We did not have a say in the specifics of these new spaces,” said Agbeyegbe. “We however believe that these spaces came about by the constant pressure put on administration by [UTMSU] and our campus clubs who have worked tirelessly to find solutions for students impacted by the lack of adequate multi-faith space at UTM.”

According to the report, U of T St. George has a variety of multi-faith spaces located throughout the campus, including a multi-faith centre—the Koffler House—that contains eight available rooms for multi-faith purposes, holding up to 200 students in total.

Also included in the 2013 report, U of T Scarborough has two spaces in their student centre for multi-faith–based activities, with one room able to hold up to 50 people, and a second able to hold up to 30 people. The 2013 report also indicates that “the U of T Scarborough administration has also committed to an additional multi-faith space in a new building opening in the fall of 2013”.

When contrasting the three U of T campuses, the report claims the St. George and Scarborough campuses “are convenient and practical; they are large enough to hold many people during religious practices and also during events that require more space”.

The report recommended “at least one additional room in each building would fulfill the needs of students as UTM expands and continues to grow physically”, while specific recommendations listed the IB, MAM building, and North Building as three facilities on campuses needing additional multi-faith spaces.

In an email to The Medium, Baker explained, “All other room spaces are assigned based on academic priority in Deerfield Hall; this includes classrooms, faculty offices, and program operations.”

According to Baker, new multi-faith space will be identified and included in the new construction of the second half of the North Building to undergo construction beginning March 2016.

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