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First-of-its-kind meditation room to open at OHIO’s Alden Library

“This will serve as just one example to individuals within and outside of our community that we care for each other, we support each other and that we are strengthening our Bobcat family.”

That’s how doctoral student Hashim Pashtun describes his vision for a meditation room at Ohio University – a vision that has been turned into action and that will result in the opening of the first-of-its-kind meditation room on the Athens Campus.

The United Meditation Room will open to the entire OHIO and surrounding communities at 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, on the fifth floor of Alden Library.

Created to support Ohio University student, staff and faculty’s as well as community members’ various faiths, beliefs and religious practices, the United Meditation Room is a student-led initiative that has received support from throughout the OHIO community and beyond. It was designed not only to provide a space at the center of the Athens Campus for individuals to gather for meditation, reflection and/or prayer, but also to recognize the religious and spiritual needs as well as the diversity of the OHIO community.

“For several years now, myself and others have seen a need for a place on campus where students from different backgrounds and cultures can go to self-reflect and practice their culture, their religion, their beliefs, and, at the same time, get to know a little about one another,” said Pashtun, who serves as president of OHIO’s International Student Union. 

More than a year ago, Pashtun took the idea to the staff at OHIO’s Office of Global Affairs and International Studies and reached out to Senior Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones. Those conversations led to a meeting with University Planner Shawna Bolin. 

“What made me really want to work on this project was Hashim’s energy and his vision for this room – that he wanted to create a room for unity, and at this time in the world, this is needed more than ever,” Bolin said.

The group conducted research, looking at what other college and universities, including OHIO’s peer institutions, were doing in this realm and found that several of them have dedicated meditation spaces on their campuses. Bolin even came across a meditation room at the John Glenn Columbus International Airport. 

They also reached out to various administrators and offices on the Athens Campus to gauge their level of support. 

“Every person who we engaged with on this was extremely supportive and glad that this project was moving forward,” Pashtun said. 

The idea received full support from President Roderick J. McDavis, Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit, Vice President for Finance and Administration Deb Shaffer, Vice President for Student Affairs Jason Pina, Vice Provost for Global Affairs Lorna Jean Edmonds, and Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Shari Clarke. 

“Ohio University has always been committed to a college experience and campus culture that fosters diversity, inclusivity and respect for one another,” said Clarke. “Our office was thrilled to support the development of the meditation room, knowing that our entire community benefits from opportunities to experience global perspectives both inside our classrooms and in our day-to-day activities – opportunities that allow us to acknowledge and celebrate our similarities as well as our differences.”

In moving the idea forward, Pashtun, Hall-Jones and Bolin began exploring location options. Among the locations they toured were a few within Alden Library, where, Bolin said, they found a dean eager to welcome such a space within the building. 

“My thinking was that the Library was an appropriate place for a meditation room for a couple of reasons,” University Libraries Dean Scott Seaman explained, noting that several universities have meditation rooms within their libraries. 

“First, the Library is where the students are,” Seaman said. “Second, as things have progressed over the past few years, the Library is being used more and more heavily every single day, and having a location inside the building where students, who are working so hard and are evermore stressed, can step out and either quietly meditate or engage in a religious practice that they are committed to is more than just a matter of convenience. It’s really something that is going to contribute to academic success at Ohio University.”

Seaman graciously offered his own conference room as a location for the meditation room, and the group decided it was the best fit for this space. In addition to contributing the space for the meditation room, Seaman said University Libraries will host the space, ensuring that it is properly maintained and operated.

OHIO’s Division of Student Affairs contributed the funds to cover minor construction, most notably the relocation of technology in the room and reconfiguration of the room’s entryway to make it a public entryway rather than an office entryway. 

“I’m excited about the ways in which this space will enhance the personal well-being of our students and community members,” Pina said. “Many students and community members have voiced the need for a meditative space on campus. Thanks to the commitment of Dean Seaman and many other collaborators across the University, that vision is being realized.”

The group worked with the Office of Architecture, Design and Construction, including Director of Interiors and Renovations Lynnette Clouse and Project Manager Jamie Noble, to develop the 441-square-foot meditation room with one overarching goal – inclusivity.

“A meditation room represents peace, tranquility, a sense of space, a sense of inclusion and value. Everyone will be welcome in the United Meditation Room,” Edmonds said, noting that the room will serve the entire Athens community, including OHIO’s international student population which hails from 113 countries, as well as individuals with no religious beliefs or who are agnostic or atheist. “Everyone who has been involved in this process has been very thoughtful about keeping the room inclusive by neutralizing it from any kind of cultural or religious biases.”

Pashtun reached out to individuals in the OHIO and Athens communities who are affiliated with different religions for their input on how best to make the room a neutral space in which all feel welcome. 

Everything from the color of the room’s walls to the minimal furnishings within the room was selected with neutrality and inclusivity in mind. The room will include a mobile partition for privacy, a shoe rack for those whose religious beliefs require shoe removal, and a shelf for books on all faiths and religions. 

Guidelines for the meditation room that are being developed will be posted on-site and on a webpage that is being created for the room. The room will not be staffed or reservable and will be open during Alden Library’s regular operating hours. 

“The meditation room will be adjacent to a deep quiet study space, so it’s intended to be very quiet,” Seaman added. “There won’t be a door leading into the room, symbolizing the openness of this space.”

Pashtun said his hope is that people use this room not only as a space to meditate, self-reflect and escape the stresses of life, but also to witness how others engage in these activities and to seize an opportunity to engage with one another.

“It’s a room designed to strengthen the diversity of our community and to build upon our vision of coexistence – that we aren’t only coexisting with one another but getting to know one another, helping one another and supporting one another,” he said. “That’s what makes up this Bobcat family that we always talk about, and I think this room will serve as proof of that strong community.”