The Interfaith Center has a prayer and meditation room available on the first floor of Baldwin Hall which is open to Truman State University students and faculty and can be accessed any time the building is open.
The prayer and meditation room has items supplied by the IC such as a rug, pillows, a shelf, a bulletin board and a room divider. Students and faculty can use these items or bring their own belongings to help them meditate, pray or reflect. The IC has nothing explicitly religious in the room because all different belief systems are welcome.
One philosophy the IC has about their center and the room is for people to take time to examine, understand and reflect on different personal and world perspectives as a way to grow. People can’t leave personal belongings in the room, but they can store them in lockers at the IC. The room was originally located on the first floor of Kirk Building, but it was moved to Baldwin in fall 2017.
J.D. Smiser, director of the Office of Citizenship and Community Standards, said the prayer room is a safe place for people to not only express their worldviews but to do activities that correspond to them. The space can also be called a meditation room with many universities putting a slash between the two names, Smiser said.
Although the prayer room is not meant to be used as a place to study for classes, Smiser said the IC is open to the rationale of why studying in the prayer room could be part of a worldview.
Leah Dieker, Campus Christian Fellowship women’s minister, said the CCF has their own prayer room and was not aware there was one located on campus. Dieker said she likes the idea of Truman offering a room for students to pray or meditate in, especially if they don’t have a space of their own and if there is no discrimination against any faith.
She said college can be a very stressful and personal time for young people to experience.
“A lot of students come into this phase of life trying to figure out who they are and it’s easy to feel lost,” Dieker said. “I think it’s easy for Truman students to root their identity in school and their life and that just includes a lot of pressure.”
To combat this, Dieker said she thinks finding a community, particularly one that is faith orientated, can be an important support system for students. Dieker said a student can have the opportunity to feel included, make friends and have a specific space to focus on what they believe in.
A big reason behind the prayer room’s presence has to do with learning and developing knowledge. Truman is a learning institution, so students have the opportunity to explore many topics and ideas they’ve never been exposed to before, which can involve or take place in the prayer room, Smiser said. He explained that this understanding of different perspectives can be a life skill for breaking down fear and misunderstanding.
Brad Turnbull, program coordinator at the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, said opportunities for students to experience something or someone outside of their comfort zone or identity is an excellent way to craft a broader worldview. Turnbull said understanding and validating other people’s perspectives can also help create more inclusive spaces in the community, on campus and in society.
One of the challenges of trying to be more open to other’s experiences is becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, Turnbull said.
“I think that when we are willing to take in and consume other perspectives and process them and validate them as someone’s lived experiences, then that in turn helps us to be more empathetic,” Turnbull said. “We can then contribute to an environment that’s ultimately supportive of those things.”
There are several emotional and existential benefits associated with taking time to pray, reflect or meditate in a prayer room, Dieker said.
“It can be just an opportunity to center yourself and to remind yourself about bigger purposes,” Dieker said. “I think it can be a way to realize what your life is about today. Praying is another way to pull ourselves out of our tendency to be really self-absorbed and takes time. I don’t know if it comes naturally to a lot of people because there are a lot of other things you deem as more important. Like, ‘I need to study for five more minutes for this test,’ or, ‘I have such a busy day, so I need five more minutes of sleep.’ But you can pray anyway. You don’t have to be prostrate on your knees to pray.”
Smiser said the IC doesn’t actively monitor the space, so they don’t know the number of people who use the room. He said he personally checks the room out three days a week and has staff who use it when they are on their shift. The arrangement of the room does often change, which indicates that people use it, Smiser said. The IC checks the room for personal belongings and to make sure it has not been vandalized, Smiser said. The room has also been used as a resource for participants in conferences held by Residence Life.
Smiser said he has not heard of any backlash about the inclusion of the prayer room. He said he thinks Truman is serious about respecting people’s different world and faith perspectives because it supports the IC sponsoring the prayer room. Smiser said there can be a lot of different reasons behind adding a prayer room to campus, but he doesn’t know if its existence is a direct response to a need to increase diversity at Truman.
“I don’t know if I’ve looked at our prayer room as being a conscious effort to support diversity,” Smiser said. “I think it does . . . if we’re doing something for the sole purpose of showing how we’re diverse, then I don’t think we’re going as deep as we need to.”
There are numerous different criteria for creating structurally inclusive spaces, Turnbull said. Although the existence of an IC and a prayer and meditation room is important and meaningful, Turnbull said it is crucial to realize that the sheer existence of something is not always an active process towards embracing inclusivity. He said it is integral to make sure that different identities are being represented, but representation is only a small part of furthering an inclusive environment where people have the chance to equally navigate all spaces and opportunities.
Turnbull said safe spaces don’t always have an active role in helping other people understand why diversity and inclusion are important. If anything, a safe space is so people can make sure they’re validating and supporting the people who need them, Turnbull said.
“Simply the existence of the prayer room is at maximum a conversation starter,” Turnbull said. “But I think the broader conversation is moreover, ‘Do you know that we have a prayer room? And do you understand why we have one?’ I think that conversation is more impactful because we have a prayer room for anyone, any religious, faith or spirituality needs, but we only have that space because those spaces are not necessarily otherwise existent in the community. Why is that and what does that look like?”
Dieker said there are other spaces for faith at Truman like the Catholic Newman Center and the Baptist Student Center, but if students feel the need to have more religious spaces then they should feel comfortable asking for them.