Prayer and Reflection Room opens in UNF Student Union

Mallory Pace, Government Reporter

 A new Interfaith Space has opened in the Student Union, meant to be a safe space for the UNF campus community to engage in religious prayer, non-religious prayer and meditative practices. 

The transformed space — once known as the Gray Lounge — was a collaboration between Student Government (SG), the Interfaith Center and the Student Union. SG set a $5,000 budget for the room’s creation. 

The space is open to all students and a reservation is not required. Signs are posted to remind students to be mindful and respectful to all groups and individuals who may use the space for prayer and meditation practices. 

A sign-in sheet has also been placed inside the room, as well as a QR code directing students to an Interfaith Space Survey to provide feedback and thoughts.

A welcome sign on the glass door
A welcome sign can be found on the door to the prayer and meditation space. (Mallory Pace)

Efforts from SG to create this space began over a year ago when an open-ended response survey was given to students to provide feedback on what they would like to see on campus, what resources they need, along with other criticism. 

After receiving over 600 responses, SG President Nathaniel Rodefer explained that one overwhelming student desire from the survey was better accommodations for groups who wish to participate in prayer together. 

While UNF’s Interfaith Center, located in Founder’s Hall, has a room open for prayer and reflection, it can only fit about four people, excluding larger groups from utilizing the space. In addition, Founder’s Hall is only open from 9-5, so certain religious observations that take place outside of those hours were not being met. 

“So, immediately, you’re not empowering students to meet their religious observations with the facilities on campus,” Rodefer said.

As Ramadan, a holiday observed by the Muslim religion, approached last school year, UNF’s Muslim Student Association (MSA) began asking the Interfaith Center and SG if appropriate accommodations could be made on campus.

The short-term solution was to keep a conference room reserved in the Student Union for the month of Ramadan, but roadblocks still arose.

A welcome sign in the room
The newly opened Prayer and Reflection Room. (Mallory Pace)

SG and the Interfaith Center began to look at other underutilized spaces on campus that could accommodate these student needs. Ultimately they agreed on transforming the Gray Lounge on the second floor of the Student Union West into a space students can use specifically for quiet meditative and prayer purposes.

Samira Yssa, a second-year biomedical sciences student, is a member of MSA who explained that MSA first asked Interfaith Center Director Matt Hartley how better accommodations could be made to allow her and her peers to pray as a group.

Yssa explained that the new space shows her that the university is allowing her to be herself. with the new Interfaith Space, she and other members of MSA can now coordinate times to meet for group prayer which helps build a sense of community, she said.  

“Before the Interfaith Center… I was just praying in random corners, and I felt like I was hiding my religion in a way,” Yssa said. “So this lets me express it in a proper and cleaner way.”. 

Interfaith Center Director Matt Hartley explained that the addition of the Interfaith Space was a team effort and a big win for UNF. 

“It started with the Muslim students advocating for themselves,” Hartley said. “Advocating for their own religious observance created a resource that now anyone can use.”

Hartley said that the Interfaith Center thinks of campus as a place where students can feel at home and be their whole selves and a part of that, for some students, is religious observance. 

There are signs posted around and inside the Interfaith Space reminding students that it is a space reserved only for quiet reflection, meditation and prayer. 

“I think it helps to have a space that is designated,” Hartley said. “I think that helps any student who wants to go into that space and know that they can be focused on whatever practice they are doing.” 

Blue mats in a box in a corner of the room
Mats and other supplies have been placed in the room for anyone’s use. (Mallory Pace)

SG President Rodefer drafted a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the creation of the Interfaith Prayer and Reflection Space detailing important information including the amount of money to be allocated to its development and how the renewal process will work in the future. The MOU was passed and signed by SG President Rodefer, VP for Academic and Student Affairs Karen Patterson, SG Director Maria Castro and Interfaith Director Matt Hartley.

In the Responsibilities of Parties section, it states that “Student Government shall budget $5,000 in ‘necessary modifications to the Interfaith Center” to prepare the new space. 

These additions will include changes to flooring, privacy on windows, and furniture as it is deemed fit. Prayer mats and a temporary carpet rug have been installed in the space until further changes are made, and then a grand opening will be held. 

The MOU also states that the allocation duration of the Interfaith Space will expire on June 30, 2023. At that point, the space will be subject to review for renewal by both SG and the Interfaith Center to assess how much the space is being utilized by students. Renewals will be on a one-year agreement, as its usage will be assessed at the end of each term. 

“We encourage students to take advantage,” Hartley said. “Whether it’s for a religious purpose or just for a quiet, reflective purpose. It is a resource for them.”

Now, the Interfaith Space is open on the second floor of Student Union West (58W/2503) also known as the Gray Lounge, for all students and groups to utilize within the Student Union’s operating hours:

  • Monday to Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.
  • Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. 


For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].