A new prayer room at St Hugh’s College is set to open next year amidst controversy over its location and security. The room’s proposed site in the Wolfson building would lead to a staircase previously accessible only by residents being open to all college members.
Venkat Kondragunta, JCR President at Hugh’s, stressed that the “consultation period is still ongoing. College have contacted 8 students about plans to open a prayer room in their living area. This consultation period is still ongoing, and college have made it clear that the prayer room will not be opened this year if the students in question have any objections.
“The JCR and college staff fully support the principle of freedom of religious expression; concerns are only based on privacy issues that arise from opening up a locked living area that inhabitants have chosen to live in specifically for its privacy,” he added.
Matt Handley, a third-year History student and a former resident of the Wolfson building, said the location of the room was “questionable”, stating:
“The provision of prayer rooms in college is, of course, important, but this seems to be a questionable location for that, raising concerns about the privacy of both those living on the staircase and those who wish to use the prayer room.”
He further quipped, “The underhanded way in which it appears to have been implemented is unsurprising- Wolfson staircase? More like ‘Wolfson mare-case’!’”
One second-year student, however, said they “did not see what the problem was.”
“Many colleges do not have such draconian security measures, and allow all members of the college to access most areas. This is a prayer room, not a Supermax prison.”
This controversy comes to light following another staircase incident at Hugh’s last Michaelmas, in which new residents found offensive graffiti daubed on the walls. This was described not only as “aesthetically hideous”, but as offensive after it was discovered that the graffiti included swastikas and derogatory comments directed against those suffering from AIDS.