‘Reflection room?’ The woman working at the reception desk at the Linnaeusborg seems unfamiliar with the term. ‘The quiet room’, Henrieke Polinder clarifies.
The receptionist brightens as she recognises the term and directs Polinder to the end of the hall, seventh floor. ‘But that’s for prayer and stuff’, the receptionist warns. ‘Not for studying.’
But Polinder isn‘t looking for a study room. She is on the university council as part of Lijst Calimero this year. Together with the student union GSb and the various faculties’ student assessors, she has been working on an idea for a new reflection room. ‘Somewhere people can take a break from studying.’
These kinds of rooms are already available at the UMCG, the Duisenberg building, and the Linnaeusborg, but not in the city centre, where the majority of students actually study for their exams. But soon – thanks to the proposal by Calimero, the GSb, and the assessors, the RUG board will make a quiet room available on the first floor of the University Library. After a year, the university will decide whether to make the pilot project a permanent fixture.
Moment of peace
Polinder is happy with the pilot. ‘There was so much support for this idea. No one’s pretending this is the ultimate solution to stress, but it might help.’ The reflection room is meant for people who need a moment’s reprieve from the pressure of deadlines and studying. ‘That moment of peace can help prevent normal, healthy stress from turning into chronic stress’, Polinder says.
And if students want to use that moment of peace to pray, that’s totally fine. But Polinder didn’t necessarily intend the reflection room as a prayer room. When she sees the room on the seventh floor at the Linnaeusborg, Polinder finally understands why the receptionist added the clarification to her directions: one corner of the floor is covered in prayer rugs. A low table holds scarves and Qurans in various languages. ‘Wow’, says Polinder, looking over the decorative covers, ‘they’re really beautiful.’
But this was not what she had in mind, at least not for ‘her’ future reflection room. ‘It should be neutral, accessible to everyone’, she explains. ‘We don’t want to decorate it according to any specific religion, and the users shouldn’t do that themselves either.’
She’s had to keep emphasising this point, as some people have responded to her proposal with concern. John Hoeks, part of the personnel faction of the university council, expressed his concerns during a council meeting: ‘I don’t think the university should encourage religious activities.’
‘It should be clear that the room is meant for silence and reflection’, says Lawrence Gormley with the science faction. ‘It shouldn’t be used to organise services of any faith. This is not a denominational university.’
‘It would be a shame if the discussion was only about this issue of secularism’, says Polinder. ‘The university has a diverse community and they deal with stress and pressure in different ways. For some people, religion is an important part of relaxation. Why wouldn’t that be allowed? And since when is offering people a quiet room the same as ‘encouraging’ religion?’
Polinder, who’s a Christian herself, doesn’t think she’ll be praying at the UB. ‘I do that somewhere else. My association, NSG, has its own prayer room.’
Musty and small
‘Okay, I always get lost here’, Polinder admits when she enter the Duisenberg building. ‘Let’s see if we can find the quiet room around here.’
The quiet room is down in the basement, in a wing with the study associations. Here too, there are prayer rugs, and there’s a sink with a bottle of soap. Other than that, it’s not a very impressive room. ‘It’s pretty musty’, says Polinder. ‘And small.’
It certainly pales in comparison to the UMCG facilities: they have an entire quiet centre on the first floor. ‘This is more like it’, Polinder whispers as she enters. There are furnished space is freshened up with vases of flowers and the ceiling is dotted with tiny lights that glitter like stars. She peers in from outside the glass doors; inside is a woman in a head scarf.
‘It’s no problem for more than one person at a time to use a quiet room’, she explains on the way to the last stop at the UB, ‘but we were there for something else, so I didn’t want to disturb her.’ There are no statistics on how much the existing quiet rooms are being used, although apparently approximately fifteen students go into the quiet room at the Linnaeusborg.
The room that the UB will make available as a quiet space is currently a study space. Student party SOG in particular worries that if the quiet room is underutilised, it will be a waste of space. ‘So we’ll have to monitor that during the pilot phase.’
But that’s a problem for later. First, the first-floor studio has to be transformed from a study room into a quiet room. So what are the current ideas for the design? Polinder isn’t really sure. ‘It’s mainly up to the UB itself, but we love contributing ideas.’ But she thinks a bunch of comfy chairs, as suggested by RUG president Jouke de Vries, would certainly be a good start.