And you STILL Can’t have a cigarette anywhere on campus
The University of Victoria is including “de-gendered” washrooms in all its new buildings for the comfort and safety of transgender students. Simon Fraser University juggles room bookings for Muslim students whose prayer times follow the sun, and the University of Calgary is launching an “equity audit” this fall to identify under-supported groups on campus.
At Carleton University and the University of Western Ontario, the official calendar listing holy days when students can be excused from classes or exams includes those central to Wicca and Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion that originated in Iran and is now estimated to have about 200,000 members worldwide.
Immigration, swelling numbers of international students and a shift in the population attending university means Canadian campuses are set to welcome a more diverse group of staff and students this fall than ever before. Many are abandoning a one-size-fits-all approach to their facilities and services as a result.
“Any university worth its salt for the last 10 or 15 years has recognized the need to change to be more accommodating to the significant and growing diversity that all campuses are experiencing,” said Joe MacDonald, dean of students at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N. S.
In an effort to serve students’ spiritual needs, the University of Toronto counts two pagans, two Hindus, two Buddhists and a First Nations spiritual leader among more than 20 chaplains associated with the new Multi-faith Centre that opened last year. It features half a dozen prayer, meeting and worship rooms, said director Richard Chambers, along with ablution facilities for foot-washing, a depressurized space that allows for fire and incense during worship ceremonies and a “living wall” of greenery.
“The centre was a case of build it and they will come,” he said, adding that U of T is home to more than 60 different faith groups.
“We provide daily noon prayers for the Sunni Muslim community and daily evening prayers for the Ismaili Muslim community. We provide space for a weekly Buddhist congregation on campus, and a couple of times a week the building is filled with the sound of Evangelical Christian praise music.”
Even allowing religious groups to book unoccupied classrooms for worship or prayer can involve logistical hurdles, said Tim Rahilly, senior director of student life at Simon Fraser University.
As an example, he mentioned the creative scheduling required to reserve a room for Muslim students whose prayer timing is guided by the sun, meaning the schedule can vary widely during the course of the school year.
SFU’s Interfaith Centre was renovated last year to include ablution rooms and now provides a “more respectful” option for Muslim students who had been making do with public washroom sinks to wash their feet before prayer, he said.
The downtown Vancouver campus always had a diverse student body, Mr. Rahilly said, but it’s now attracting more and younger undergraduates from mainland China, who often want to live on single-sex floors in residence.
On the other hand, gender-specific facilities can pose a problem for students in transition from one gender to another, he said, so at the urging of an LGBT group on campus, SFU has started “de-gendering” the single-occupancy washrooms originally designed for disabled access.
“Where, generally speaking, universities and colleges have more difficulty is in terms of what I would call emerging awareness, in terms of cultural groups that are newer to campus or religions that are newer to campus,” he said.