By Jordan Heath-Rawlings
Ryerson’s Muslim Student Association is debating the next step in its fight for prayer space after the administration rejected their mediation request yesterday.
Fouzan Khan, president of RMSA, e-mailed members of Ryerson’s administration last week to inform them he was seeking mediation from Abdul Hai Patel, a Commissioner with Ontario’s Human Rights Commission.
Kahn said he hoped that mediation could settle the issue.
“It doesn’t seem that our current approach has made any difference to the administration,” he said, adding that he called for a mediator because he wanted to sit down face-to-face and solve the problem instead of arguing back and forth over e-mail.
In an e-mail sent to RMSA and RyeSAC yesterday, Ryerson v.p. administration and student affairs, Linda Grayson, denied RMSA’s request.
“The request to expand your prayer space from the multi-faith centre to another venue on the campus raises an issue of principle for the university and is not open to mediation,” Grayson said in the e-mail.
The e-mail repeated the offers in the university had already unsuccessfull made to RMSA, and added that Oakham House might be used to accommodate a large prayer group.
RyeSAC v.p. education Alex Lisman argued with the statement, saying that fire codes prevent Oakham House from holding more than 150 students in one room.
“They’re bringing this up again, but it’s a moot argument,” Lisman said. “It won’t work. It’s done.”
Over the past two years, RMSA and Ryerson have argued over the lack of a suitable place for Ryerson’s Muslim students to pray together on Fridays. The student association hosts between 200 and 400 students for Friday prayer every week.
The campus multi-faith centre is only large enough to accommodate 50 students at a time.
Ryerson had offered three other solutions to RMSA: they can pray in smaller groups in separate rooms at the same time, they can pray in shifts at the multi-faith centre or they can examine off-campus mosques.
RMSA has told Ryerson that these solutions are not acceptable.
“The first two solutions are unacceptable,” said Khan. “The last one is as good as saying, ‘deal with it yourself.’”
The issue flared up again last week when Ryerson’s director of student services Marian Creery sent RMSA a memo stating that public services were no appropriate for their weekly prayer.
The Muslim students prayed in room A-60 on Friday January 11. The memo from Creery arrived on January 18. Last Friday, RMSA prayed in another public space, the Olive Baker Lounge, which RyeSAC had previously booked for its first annual Health Fair.
“The (basement of Jorgenson Hall) is not a respectful place to pray,” Creery said. “I’m trying to be respectful, and that’s not how we want to respect our Muslim students.”
RyeSAC has booked space for RMSA’s weekly prayers under the RyeSAC label for the past two weeks. That didn’t sit well with Creery, and they won’t be able to do that in the future.
Creery said she has asked Leatrice Spevack, RyeSAC’s Campus Groups Administrator, to revise the form that they use to book space for events.
“I think (the prayer space issue) just highlighted to us that we didn’t have as much information on the events as we should have.”
Spevack said that RyeSAC has noticed increased scrutiny of their events from administration since the prayer space issue heated up. RyeSAC officials say they have been questioned for the first time by the administration about events they have run many times before.
“I’ve been here for twenty years and I haven’t seen anything like this,” Spevack said.
Two upcoming RyeSAC events, X-rated hypnotist Tony Lee and the annual hot tub party, have been looked at closely by the administration.
“The hot tub party has been happening for 15 years without a single incident,” Spevack said, “There’s no question there’s (increased scrutiny).”
“I’m not sure what we’re going to do next exactly,” she said. “But RyeSAC is going to take other actions if the mediation does not resolve the issue.”
Now that mediation will not be happening, Lisman said that RyeSAC is waiting for word from RMSA to decide on the next step.
“They’ve called a meeting for tonight (Tuesday). Then we’ll know how we’ll respond.”
“We will continue to pray in public spaces until we have solutions to these problems,” Khan had said, before he learned that the mediation would not happen.