UNH Opens New Spiritual and Meditation Center

by Jackie Hennessey
Communications and Public Affairs Writer/Editor

Last fall, the Office of the Dean of Students surveyed students about their spiritual needs. The University’s Muslim students said they needed a central place to pray daily. Students of other religious affiliations sought connections with students who shared their faith, and others were simply looking for a place for quiet contemplation.

To meet all of those needs, UNH has opened a Meditation and Spirituality Center in the lower level of a University apartment at 15 Ruden Street. It features an interfaith room expansive enough so students can take part in guided meditation the Counseling Office staff will soon offer weekly.

The Spiritual and Meditation Center provides a quite place for contemplation.

The campus community is invited to an open house on Monday, Sept. 16, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. A dedication ceremony will take place at 4 p.m.

“This welcoming space is a testament to the student-centered approach we strive to foster at UNH,” said President Steve Kaplan. “We have what our students asked for: an oasis from our bustling campus, a special place of prayer, meditation and reflection. I welcome all students in the University community, of all faiths and backgrounds, to share in our wonderful new center.”  

The center will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and will be accessible by UNH campus card by students who have requested to use the space. Interested students must go to office of the Dean of Students to sign up for campus card access.

“It’s a peaceful spot,” said Kara Beth Neike, coordinator of student conduct and technical applications. “Students can just stop in for a time of reflection.” Or they can peruse book shelves with materials on different religions and spiritual practices.

One of the tenets of Islam is that Muslims must pray five times daily, kneeling with their faces on the ground. Muslims also wash their face, hands and feet to be purified before praying. The Meditation and Spirituality Center features separate prayer rooms for male and female Muslim students, each with a sink and a foot-washing station.

The prayer rooms were designed with the help of Omer Bajwa, coordinator of Muslim life at Yale University, so that they are properly aligned with Mecca, said Rebecca Johnson, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students.

Spiritual centers – with interfaith meditation spaces and Muslim prayer rooms – are opening at colleges and universities around the country. In what was considered a groundbreaking longitudinal study by UCLA in 2008, researchers found that while undergraduates spend less time attending religious services, their overall level of spirituality increased.

The new Meditation and Spirituality Center is part of a larger mission to expand UNH’s Office of Spiritual Life and Campus Ministry, Neike said. To gain insights on how best to build the program, Neike, Johnson, University chaplain Martin J. O’Connor and Ira Kleinfeld, professor of industrial engineering, met with Yale University chaplain Sharon M.K. Kugler and Bajwa. “They shared so many ideas and resources with us,” Neike said.

This fall, Neike created a Facebook page and a Spiritual Ambassador program. The goal is for students of different faiths to act as ambassadors, sharing resources with other students.

“Students who have a faith question or who need to find a ride to a church service in New Haven can ask one of the ambassadors or go on the Facebook page,” she said.  A Spiritual Practice Guide is also available on the Spiritual Life and Ministry website.

Neike hopes the center becomes yet another place where students can engage in experiential learning. A student stopping by to meditate might have a conversation with a student leaving afternoon prayer.

“And they’ll discover something from each other,” she said. “This is where building community comes from. One day our students will leave campus and go off to their respective places of work, and perhaps they will take with them an understanding of other people’s faiths.”

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