Originally published Sept. 7, 2011

In a world where religious differences constantly spark contention and controversy, Grand Valley State University students share a single place of prayer — and they’re okay with it.

Muslims pray to Allah, Jews call on Yahweh, Christians speak to Jesus and Hindus invoke their many gods all in the same carpeted cubicle on the second floor of the Kirkhof Center.

The university’s efforts to ensure a common haven for spiritual release have proven students’ religious maturity and ability to coexist in the 11-by-20-foot partitioned space overlooking the LGBT Center. The Prayer Room was erected last fall to accommodate the spiritual needs of the thousands of religious students on campus.

The reserved area, which remains empty apart from a small stack of patterned Islamic cloths left behind by students, has no chairs, mats or kneelers. It offers no Koran, Bible nor Torah for reference or rumination. Three gray cubicle walls stand devoid of statues of Buddha, pictures of Abraham, stars of David and other religious emblems.

It is non-denominational and equally lacking in resources for all faiths.

Bob Stoll, director of Student Life at GVSU, said student groups have requested religious artifacts to be placed in the room, but Student Life has denied the request in order to keep the space a generic place of worship. He added that the school cannot outwardly support or supply certain faiths in order to keep its public funding.

Despite the technical boundaries that the university must keep to ensure a division of church and state, the prayer room will eventually “evolve into something over the course of time,” Stoll said.

He did not reveal the school’s intentions to renovate the room or forward the university’s resources for students of faith. Stoll said that at this point students are just grateful to have a place to pray in private.

Aaron Haight of the Student Life Office initiated the prayer room project last year. She said the general response to the room’s conception has been positive.

“Students have expressed gratitude for having a space to pray and reflect,” she said. “Spirituality is an important aspect to a student’s development and wellness.”

Stoll said he is unaware of any student complaints against praying in the same room as a person of a different faith.

Statistics and demographics of students who use the prayer room have not yet been compiled, but Haight said a plan for improving the room will be considered once the information is found.

Original publication: http://www.lanthorn.com/article/2011/09/prayer_space_continues_to_draw_students_of_faith