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SJP and UC Divest Coalition Demonstrations at UCLA

Long-awaited Bruin Reflection Space serves as location for meditation and prayer

The sign for the Bruin Reflection Space is pictured. UCLA community members celebrated the ribbon ceremony Friday. (Dylan Winward/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Alina Susu

Jan. 23, 2024 10:11 p.m.

Students and staff gathered at Ackerman Union on Friday afternoon to celebrate the opening of the newly established Bruin Reflection Space.

The Bruin Reflection Space, located near the south side of Ackerman Union, was jointly created by the University Religious Conference, UCLA Campus Life and Associated Students UCLA to provide students with a safe space for meditation and prayer.

The space has been a longtime dream of Muslim Bruins since the ‘90s, according to a Daily Bruin article. Students had repeatedly expressed concerns over the lack of a proper space to pray on campus. The closest thing to a designated space was located on the third floor of Ackerman Union, but it was small and cramped, said Noor Nakhaei, a fifth-year computer science doctoral candidate.

The absence of an organized space was particularly difficult for Muslim students, who are required to pray five times a day, said Hodari Yusef Harris II, a UCLA alumnus who worked on the project.

“You can find photos of the Muslim community praying behind Kerckhoff – that was the known meet-up spot for prayer for generations – in this annoying position where the cars are parked and by trash cans,” Harris said. “It wasn’t really conducive to peace and prayer.”

The Bruin Reflection Space was officially designated as a spot for prayer and meditation by ASUCLA in 2021 after Najia Saleem, a fourth-year human biology and society student, said she reached out to ASUCLA in search of a better spot for prayer. Since then, the project received $45,000 in grants from the URC and went into planning in 2022, added Saleem, a member of the Muslim Student Association. The $45,000 was used to beautify the reflection space by adding umbrellas, benches, planters, plants and storage boxes for prayer mats and modest clothing, she said.

The newly added reflection space gives students the opportunity to practice worship or meditation in a safe environment, said Harris, who was also part of MSA during his time as a UCLA student.

However, while the space is a major achievement, there is still room for improvement and collaboration, Saleem said. Moving forward, Saleem added that MSA is looking for a larger indoor space for prayer.

Although the Bruin Reflection Space is important for Muslim students in particular because of the nature of their prayers, the space is nondenominational and welcomes all students on campus, said Hamza Khan, a second-year data theory student and secretary of MSA who attended the ceremony.

“It’s open to anyone, and I think a lot of times we come and we see other students who might be meditating in this space,” Khan added. “It’s really encouraging to see other people taking advantage of it.”

Noah Gotlibowski, a second-year music industry student who attended the ceremony, said while he does not identify with any religion, he still sees himself using the space to meditate and ground himself after classes.

The space is especially important amid increasing polarization and growing geopolitical tension, said Jeanne Smith, a former president of the URC. Students of all backgrounds can show up wholly and authentically in a judgment-free, respectful environment, she added.

The Bruin Reflection Space demonstrates how important it is for students to make their voices heard, said Alejandra Castellanos, a fourth-year public affairs student.

Castellanos, who is the chair of ASUCLA’s Board of Directors, added that the university hosts monthly board and committee meetings that are open for students to raise issues during public comment or tune in at their discretion.

“Looking behind me, I can see an enclosed space that’s quiet, that’s a little bit warmer, that’s not in between moving cars, that’s not next to trash cans,” Harris said. “Took a while to get here, and it wasn’t exactly like this for a while, but it’s beautiful to see now.”

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