Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Give Peace Room a Chance

By way of University Diaries comes this story of a fellow who is trying to build a ''peace room'' at De Anza College. He's a Buddhist and has found that there are no places on campus to meditate in peace, so he wants a room ''ideally 20 by 20 square feet, [that] would be used for religious and non-religious practice and for people to manage their stress. The room would be able to facilitate a group of people while, at the same time, accommodating individuals' personal space for their own meditation.''

There are some issues over whether or not such a room would violate the separation between Church and state. 'Ruth Rabin, a TV and Film student, said religion does not belong on campus. "Education and religion should not mix," she said. "If you want to pray, go to an appropriate venue."'

Okay, well aside from the fact that ''education and religion should not mix'' is a surprisingly ahistorical thing to say, I had a few other thoughts on this story (all of which the apt readers of UD got to as well):

1. Is peace particularly religious? Couldn't you want peace and quiet reflection without it being a religious quest? Do us agnostics get a war room?

2. Isn't it a serious problem already that you have a university in which there's no place that a student can go to think in peace and quiet?

I thought about this quite a bit today while I was studying in the McMaster University library. They had ''quiet study areas''. Not to sound jealous, but Mall University has no quiet study areas anywhere in any of our libraries. I never really noticed how odd that is before. I think you might be able to rent little cubicles in there. But our libraries are really loud. The trick is to study on the floors that have no computers, and hence no students. But, during exams, it can be hard to find anywhere in the library that is quiet. A TA once pointed out to me that the students who hang out in our libraries seem like they would be ashamed to actually be seen reading there.

The ''student center/ dining area'' is even worse. For reasons that entirely escape me, someone decided that there should be ear-splittingly loud hip hop music playing at all times in there. So, if you want to study, well you can fuck right off. But, if you want to get your groove on... Well, you've come to the right university, buckaroo. As for the study lounges... well, longtime readers of this blog will remember me complaining about the frat boys that whoop it up in our department's study lounge. Most places of our university are embarassingly loud; like a guy at a party who is trying to hard to be entertaining.

There seems have been a conscious effort made to create university spaces that reflect youth culture in a more serious way than they do university culture. The reason we call our school Mall University is that it almost seems to have been designed to hide the fact that it is a university. Every common area is filled with shops. Every space that could, in theory, be quiet and peaceful, has had a cafe of some sort crammed into it, along with Internet terminals and the same loud shitty music. As I write this, it occurs to me that I really can't think of a single public spot on my campus that allows for any sort of quiet reflection. When I want to study, I lock myself in one of the TA offices. I wonder quite often if it's just me- if my hearing is just too acute and if I'm too averse to other people. I will say that I absolutely hate having people within ten feet of my body. But, if I'm weird, the modern world seems almost pathologically terrified of silence. Every public place I go is filled with idiots on cell phones. There is a campaign to make them all 'wi-fi' as well. The need this fills is simply a terror of being alone with one's own thoughts. I should note that every single student that I saw in the library today had headphones in and was typing on a laptop. I felt a bit strange to be reading my books.

This might be nothing, but I find something disturbing about the fact that a public space in which one can reflect in silence strikes us as a violation of the separation of church and state. Because it struck me that way as well, right off the bat, but that got me wondering what I've come to expect from public buildings. I don't want the state building chapels. However, I also don't want to live in a society that is threatened by inwardness. There's something ominous about Mall World. For reasons unknown, it clear cuts the spiritual realm. It allows for so many choices, but not opting out. Even worse is the fact that it likely reflects our needs. We yearn for a controlled environment with pleasant distractions and no mindful stillness. A society that fears quiet reflection and the existence of an inner life seemingly yearns for totalitarianism.


Jen P. said...

Wow. There are lots of quiet and semi-quiet places to sit and think for a bit here at U of T. Us arts types don't get office space, of course . . . .

Rufus said...

Well, we basically all share the same room, which the school calls the 'TA office'. But, I'm the only one who ever wants to use the thing.

U of T is probably the most university-looking university I've ever been to. This is probably why I saw so many film crews in that general vicinity. Also, the library is amazing. I'm actually doing half my dissertation research there.

The Pagan Temple said...

If you did get that "room for reflection" at your university, it would probably end up being like your library in under six months. Most people that went in there would be ashamed to be seen "reflecting".