How a room can change a university

Cone room 336 improved campus life, united the student body and revealed university values

| September 20, 2017

Last year, Cieaf Abualdahab would visit Atkins Library multiple times a day. Not to study or do homework, but for a different reason.

He’d knock on the door of an occupied study room and ask “Do you mind if I pray here?” As a muslim, Abualdahab prays five times a day and often, he’s on campus during those times.

Some students in the study rooms would welcome the unexpected visit. Other times, he’d receive frustrated responses.

On days when the Muslim Student Association (MSA) could reserve a study room for their members, Abualdahab would pray there instead. Two hundred other students would also use the room throughout the day. They’d sometimes come back to sign-ins mocking their religion. “Terrorist” or “Osama bin Laden” scribbled in pen.

Today, Abualdahab prays in the Cone building, room 336. The room is hardwood floors with open windows allowing light to come through. Mats, pillows and rugs rest on the floor. As Abualdahab walks through the front door, he reads the two words he feels best describe the space, “Peace Haven.”

The door to enter the Peace Haven. Photo by Alexandria Sands.

Along with many other students, Abualdahab raised his voice to administration a year ago for this purpose. He was a member of the “Interfaith Niners.” Student organizations for Muslims, Christians and other religions came together for this initiative, along with student government. They all met in front of Cato Hall with signs and petitions, pleading administration to create a space that all students could use for relaxation or religious purposes. Conversations about an inclusive space for students to pray or meditate were happening for over ten years, but this time the voices were united and they were loud.

Administration agreed to open the room with full funding that spring, but renovations were to be made. President of MSA, Abrar Al-Shaer, a leader of the Interfaith Niners, worked closely with the designer. The renovations completed a week before the new school year. Students came back to a room that was beyond their expectations.

“On paper, it looked okay. But then seeing it in person, I was jumping up and down,” Al-Shaer said.

The student organization YesPlus uses the space twice a week for group mediation. President Jagir Pipalia says he uses it individually as well. Prior to the Peace Haven, he’d go to the library or the top floor of the Student Union to meditate, something he enjoys doing daily to clear his mind.

“When I leave the university and I think back, this is the place that I will think about,” Pipalia said.

Treasurer Vamshi Dhar also uses the space away from their group meetings. He says meditating in the morning helps him stay energized throughout the day.

There is such serenity to it. It really feels peaceful, calm. I’m connected to that room,” Dhar said. 

Student organization YesPlus meets in the Peace Haven to meditate. Photo by Alexandria Sands.

The room has been beneficial to student’s mental health. So much so that administration and student leaders considered placing it in the Health and Wellness building, before deciding on Cone. Members of MSA have thought about having group discussions in the room to talk about concerns on campus.

The room also started a conversation about diversity at UNC Charlotte. Abualdahab said more people have been interested in learning about his religion since the Peace Haven opened.

“They’ll learn more about whatever culture, whatever religion, whatever race is in that room,” he said.

MSA members suggest that students attend lectures and events, such as Islamophobia panels, to become educated on people different than themselves.

“That’s what university is all about,” Al-Shaer said. “You’re living in whatever environment you are in and now you’re being exposed to a lot of different perspectives and this is probably your one and only chance to take advantage of all those perspectives.”

Most North Carolina colleges have also created these spaces including: NC State, UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Asheville, App State, Elon University, NCA, TSU and UNC Greensboro.

The Interfaith Niners are spreading awareness that the room is accessible to everyone. They plan to have a grand opening as well as introduce the room to incoming students at SOAR orientation.

UNC Charlotte students pray and meditate in the Peace Haven. Photo by Greyson Nance.

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Category:Campus, News

Alexandria Sands Alexandria is the News Editor for the Niner Times. She is a junior Communications major with a double minor in Journalism and Film. Alexandria has reported and taken photographs for The State Port Pilot, The Gaston Gazette and The Shelby Star. She is a graduate of the Academy of Information Technology within Apex High School. You can reach Alexandria at news@ninertimes.com or Twitter.com/alexsands_.

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Alexandria Sands Alexandria is the News Editor for the Niner Times. She is a junior Communications major with a double minor in Journalism and Film. Alexandria has reported and taken photographs for The State Port Pilot, The Gaston Gazette and The Shelby Star. She is a graduate of the Academy of Information Technology within Apex High School. You can reach Alexandria at news@ninertimes.com or Twitter.com/alexsands_.