The following is excerpted from a story published on October 3, 2018 in the Harvard Gazette.
Yaseen Eldik graduated from Harvard Law School in 2016. It was a period marked by “crippling, depressing anxiety,” unease rooted in the rhetoric of a xenophobic campaign season, and pressures associated with his chosen field and uncertain future.
A spiritual person who had worked in the Obama White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Eldik spent much time that year, as in any year, in prayer. Time for meditation and reflection helped ground him, and kept him moving forward. Often, his thoughts turned to what it would mean for his institution, to which he had become deeply attached, to create a space for this very activity. “It’s definitely something that would have made my life easier,” he said.
Fast-forward two years, and that space exists, thanks to an initiative spearheaded by Jeff McNaught, senior director of student affairs and administration, and to the counsel of Eldik himself. Opened at the start of 2017–18 academic year, HLS’ Interfaith Prayer and Meditation Space offers students a unique place for religious observance, meditation, and prayer.
An attractive, austere room tucked into a corner of Wasserstein Hall and accessible only to students, it features sleek white oak lockers, kneelers, and racks to hold shoes; colorful prayer rugs and pillows for meditation; and a large window, 5 feet high, the bottom half of which is frosted to preserve privacy while letting in soft light. On a wall facing east, a Post-it note performing as a makeshift mihrab denotes the direction of Mecca. Nearby, on the same bulletin board, are the Lord’s Prayer and verses from 1 Thessalonians and the Psalms.
“Yaseen really helped to put my mind at ease when we were designing the space,” said McNaught. “Both in terms of the size itself, and what kinds of things needed to be included, and then HLS Facilities did an incredible job in making it happen over the course of that summer. It’s been great to see this year how many students are using the room. Yaseen was right when he said that people would be happy to have a quiet, clean space with a few simple amenities for prayer.”
The space at the Law School is one of several on campus offering students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to engage in meditation and prayer. Also new during the last academic year is Tufnell Park Meditation Room in the renewed Winthrop House, which reflects Faculty Deans [at Harvard College] Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and Stephanie Robinson’s commitment to students finding agency for self-care.