This article originally appeared in USC’s Daily Trojan on Feb. 26, 2014
Support systems are crucial in college. From the financial support of family members to the moral support of friends, a network of caring people will make the rigor and stresses of college more manageable and enjoyable. A new proposal to create permanent Hindu prayer rooms on all U.S. college campuses should continue to extend the support systems available for a variety of students.
Wendy Fu | Daily Trojan
Last week, Universal Society of Hinduism President Rajan Zed said institutions of higher education should provide spaces for Hindu students to perform their religious rituals. Zed was responding to the decision by Brandeis University in Massachusetts to cancel the opening ceremony of a Hindu prayer room. In Hinduism, prayer rooms are used as places of worship and meditation. Citing the presence of churches, temples and mosques on several U.S. campuses, the proposal aligns the importance of Hinduism with other major religions.
In the United States, there are three million Hindus. Furthermore, Hinduism ranks as the third largest world religion behind Christianity and Islam, according to a Pew Research study. With these significant numbers, there are undoubtedly Hindu students attending colleges and universities throughout the United States — a majority of whom do not have access to a prayer room to practice their faith.
Reportedly, after Brandeis University cancelled the ceremony for the dedication of the Hindu prayer room, the school replaced it with a conversation about sharing space across religious lines. Though ironic, it also highlights the importance of creating space for each student, regardless of his or her background.
The journey to install Hindu prayer rooms on every college campus will be a long and difficult process, especially on denominational campuses. On USC’s campus, there are currently several religious centers where students can practice their faith. Of the six places to worship on or near campus, however, none are specifically designated Hindu -prayer rooms, according to the university’s Office of Religious Life. This should not be the case. Student organizations can mobilize themselves to change the lack of representation of a major world religion. Yet in the same way, the discussion on a lack of space has been taken up by several other factions of USC students at the University Park campus.
During last May’s #USChangeMovement, which was a response to a perceived case of racial profiling by the Los Angeles Police Department against USC students, the social movement’s leaders asked that more spaces be created for students of color. Students argued that if there were designated spaces to have fun and socialize together, then they would not be put into positions of defending themselves against LAPD. Similar to the call for a prayer room, the creation of a safe place to socialize shows that the interests of a wide range of students are being heard. It also shows that support systems are being created to retain these students.
Ultimately students need their space. At an urban campus such as USC, where space is limited and construction is constant, the administration should consciously focus on how space is being filled as well as the ultimate benefit it will have on students. A Hindu prayer room or a house for social gatherings might not be implemented on campus in the near future, but right now schools can start thinking of ways to improve their students’ experience. Access to space to practice religion and all other avenues to grow as an individual is a crucial first step.
Jordyn Holman is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Making the Grade,” runs Wednesdays.