Space challenges result in tension
Last week, the University announced and then reportedly reversed a decision to revamp the Women’s Resource Center—a space in the Shapiro Campus Center used by the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and Students Talking About Relationships—into a space for Dharmic prayer.
Social media pages for FMLA and STAR first shared the news on Facebook on March 18 about the move, which would have seen FMLA and STAR relocating into the office currently used by Student Sexuality Information Services. SSIS’ office is also in the Shapiro Campus Center, just down the hall from the Women’s Resource Center.
As of press time, the only communication the student body has received about the Dharmic prayer space came in a few paragraphs on March 19 in Grimes’ weekly “What’s happening at Brandeis this weekend” email. “The WRC is not cut nor closed,” Grimes wrote. “A number of moves have come about as a result of the opportunity created by the new Gender and Sexuality Diversity Center in Usdan [Student Center], when [Triskelion], the QRC [Queer Resource Center] and QPOCC [Queer People of Color Coalition] moved into that space in Usdan.”
“As happens when space is available the current clubs spaces have been shifted to meet a pressing need to provide our growing Dharmic student population a suitable prayer space,” Grimes wrote. “This was shared with ample notice provided for the move.” Both Grimes and Student Activities Operations Specialist Darryl David ’09, who oversees space usage in the Shapiro Campus Center, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
According to Vice President of FMLA Cecile Afable ’16, in an email to the Justice, her club first heard of the relocation plan on March 13 in an email from Grimes. Afable wrote that they were notified that “FMLA would need to vacate the room by March 20 so the Dharmic Prayer Center could open by March 26. We were told that we could hold FMLA meetings in a shared space with SSIS in that email as well.”
FMLA, Afable clarified, does not have a permanent office space but holds its meetings in the WRC space.
On Wednesday, March 18, all of FMLA’s executive board, several peer counselors from STAR and some members from SSIS met with Grimes to discuss “political and spatial differences that would make sharing a suite uncomfortable,” according to Afable.
“Stephanie Grimes did propose that FMLA have meetings elsewhere, but when FMLA e-board members asked if there were any plans to relocate or re-establish a Women’s Resource Center, she said no,” Afable wrote. “The WRC is a space that serves various functions, as resource centers do. Only one of those functions is providing a space for FMLA to meet. Merely moving FMLA meetings elsewhere would not have re-established a Women’s Resource Center.”
In her March 19 email to the student body, Grimes acknowledged that “moves and changes can often cause some level of stress,” writing that “we will continue to meet with any groups that have concerns about these moves to work towards the best possible models.
In addition, the Student Union is undertaking a more comprehensive review of student organization space and we look forward to collaborating on seeking the best space allocations for our student group needs.”
In seeking a solution to the space issue, members of FMLA as well as Hindu Chaplain Vaishali Gupta had meetings with Dean of Students Jamele Adams.
Gupta clarified the role of the a Dharmic prayer space in an email to the Justice.“The Dharmic prayer space would be primarily used by the people of Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist faiths,” he wrote. “Right now, people pray in small groups in whatever space they find or in their rooms. We have used the ICC Multipurpose room for Hindu services in the past.”
“The talks about the Dharmic prayer space began in the beginning of last semester,” Gupta wrote, adding that talks regarding finding a space began on Sept. 22, 2014, with Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel, the students of Namaskar, Sangha, Jain students, other practicing Buddhists, former Catholic Chaplain Fr. Walter Cuenin and Director of the Intercultural Center Monique Gnanaratnam.
Representatives from FMLA—including Afable, the club’s President Zuri Gordon ’15 and Secretary Tina Nguyen ’17—met with Adams on Friday, March 20. Grimes was present at the meeting, according to Afable.
“Dean Adams apologized for the mistakes in the This Week at Brandeis email sent out on March 19, in which the administration conflated the WRC and FMLA, and took full responsibility,” Afable wrote. “He also said that any plans to move anything would be paused until more conversations could happen with us, SSIS, STAR, and the Dharmic Prayer Center committee to find a solution that will work for everybody.”
Dean Adams clarified in an email to the Justice that “no one is moving for now” and that he is working on a statement regarding Dharmic prayer space, as well as “a way to review and potentially reallocate space moving forward.” Adams wrote that he also plans to issue apologies for the “delayed messaging and lack of engagement on the issue that has caused these concerns to arise.
Gupta met with Adams on Monday, March 23, and called that meeting “promising,” adding that the administration is evaluating a few space options for a Dharmic prayer center. “As of now,” she wrote, “there is no space option other than the SCC that is in consideration.”
“The Dharmic prayer space should be in a quiet location which offers some privacy for quiet reflection, meditation and prayer,” Gupta wrote. “There will be alters dedicated to each of the faiths with other supplies like bells, sculptures, lamps etc.”
STAR did not respond to request for comment by press time.