Renovation, Reallocation, and Religion: Details surrounding construction on campus and student’s reactions

Previously published by The Campus

Renovation

 On May 25, 2018, President Vincent Boudreau sent out an email concerning upcoming construction projects taking place at The City College of New York. He shared the main renovations occurring on campus: “Wingate Hall becomes the center for student clubs, workout facilities and other activities; and will become ADA compliant.

This will mean that we’ll have the gym, the dance studios, and student club and meeting spaces all in one building. Establishing the student space in Wingate will allow us to convert the current Student Organization Club Space (SOCS) in the basement of Shepard Hall, as well as some unused storage areas there, into much-needed classroom space.

The old swimming pool (sub-basement) space in Wingate Hall that’s currently used for storage will be converted into new classroom space; Our finance operation, currently housed in Wingate Hall, will be moved to portions of Baskerville or Shepard Hall not being used by our high school; The “Green Room” bordering the Aronow Theater will be available, once more, for dressing room purposes, (and a renovated Aronow will be both a large scale classroom and a fully functional performance space). The basement of Wingate Hall will be converted to security department locker rooms (once they have been moved out of the “green room” space referenced in #5.)”

 Just as dominoes fall in a Rube Goldberg machine, changes will be made to these spaces at CCNY.

While the funding for such projects comes from multiple sources, the bulk of finances are provided by three entities: Reso-A, DASNY, and CUNY. Reso-A projects are school-specific capital improvement or enhancement activities that are funded by individual grants from New York City Council Members or Borough Presidents. Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, or DASNY, “Is a leader in sustainable construction, and ensures the participation of minority-, women-, and service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses through every step of the construction process,” according to ny.gov. The City University of New York (CUNY) funding comes from CCNY’s parent university.

 Yet, as with most changes, there are several stakeholders that have conflicting interests in the aforementioned renovations.

Reallocation

Below the explication of changes, Boudreau expressed that “an important element of this building plan also needs special note. We will soon be removing temporary occupants of the Wingate basement floor space—currently being used as prayer rooms—to begin construction for the security staff locker rooms.” He continued on, “Our policy, unenforced for some time, (but policy nonetheless) is that as a state institution, we provide ecumenical spaces for prayer, but not dedicated space for any one religious group. We have renovated space in Shepard 51 to serve as that ecumenical space. When construction begins in Wingate, all religious activity previously taking place in the basement of Wingate will be scheduled in that ecumenical space.”

 In other words, primarily two Muslim clubs, Muslim Student Organization (MSO) and Women in Islam, have been conducting both club activities and prayer in the location that will be turned into public safety locker rooms. The plan states that these clubs will continue their activities in Student Organization Club Space (SOCS) in Shepard 51.

However, WII President Kazi Ateea and MSO Secretary Ahsanul Abeer did not find this accommodation sufficient.

Religion

On certain days of the week, upwards of 200 Muslim students come to gather in the basement of Wingate for prayer.

“Muslims are obligated to pray 5 times a day, and this club space is only open for a limited amount of time and clubs are limited to using the space for max 2 hours a day,” Ateea said.

The new ecumenical prayer space will be an area for all faiths to reserve and thus cannot be guaranteed to fulfill the needs of Muslim students on campus.

Some measures are being implemented to make the space friendlier for Muslim students to pray, such as two separate areas for the women and men, but the space is substantially smaller and less accountable for the prayer needs of MSO, WII, and others.

Ahsanul Abeer, the Secretary of MSO, held a similar sentiment to Ateea. “The greatest concern I have with these renovations right now is the lack of transparency between the President’s office and the students and clubs being affected by this change. Unfortunately, the SOCS space itself is nowhere near enough space to be able to maintain all the spiritual needs of a campus so diverse.”

Overall, Ateea commented, “With this pushback from the administration, we are put in a situation where we feel as if the place that we call home is no longer ours.”

Reaction

Some student stakeholders and onlookers are, quite starkly, against the changes.

Haris Khan, the Executive Vice President of the Undergraduate Student Government, expounded that instead of making club space smaller, even transiently, the college should take another route. Moreover, he recalled historic shifts in club spaces to critique the forthcoming reallocation of club space.

“We should pride ourselves in the fact that we have students that want to be active. We should be empowering those students so that they can have an enriching, not only academic but also extracurricular experience. That is experiential learning,” Khan asserted.

 He further noted, “Instead this college has a trend now that we are witnessing where first an entire building was taken away, now when we finally agree to a basement, and then we agree that the basement wasn’t permanent. When the basement was given the agreement was that they were going to find a better, more permanent solution to this.”

Khan is referencing the removal of club space from Baskerville Hall to house The High School for Math, Science, and Engineering (HSMSE). On the other hand, Boudreau said, “It was an empty space that they occupied, they were never given that space. About two years ago there was a clear understanding of that. Two years ago this renovation was supposed to take place. The students at the time were told ‘you gotta move out,’ they moved out, money dried up so the renovation never happened, and so they moved back in. So that was never allocated space.”

Speaking to his own experience, Boudreau shared “I’ve been moved four times in my time at City College and three times against my will, nobody owns space on campus.”

While there are opposing narratives about the allocation or lack thereof of this space, a question still remains: When space is being given and taken away, who is at the table for that conversation?

Khan calls on CCNY’s Space Allocation Policy from 2005 which states, “All affected parties [in reallocation of space] will be given written notice and consulted beforehand. They will receive ample time to study the impact and submit statements to their respective Dean or Provost and then appeal to the President.”

When talking about club space, Khan argues that student stakeholders, whether that be club leaders or student government officials, need to have a say in decision making. “We want to stand up for shared governance. This university, under the Board of Trustees, one of the oldest colleges in the university system, was founded on the concept that faculty, students, and administration are equal partners in the governance of this institution.”

Divergently, Boudreau wants to consult students in these instances to inform the decisions ultimately made by the administration. He discussed, “I think for these kinds of situations you’ve got to allow students to voice an opinion but to understand that an opinion that you give about this space is going to have no direct effect on your life. It’s going to have a direct effect on somebody who is probably not even on campus by the time these renovations are done. So that means that we listen to what students think, but we factor it in with a bunch of other concerns.”

With construction set to start in the next several weeks, the opinions of student government, clubs, and the administration are expected to collide with increasing fervor.

Design by Loretta Violante

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