On a busy campus like WPI's, students tend to know the best areas to study, to work on projects with groups, or to catch up with friends. But where do they go for quiet time to reflect, to pray, or just to think?
The Gordon Library and the Office of Disability Services (ODS) recently paired up to carve out space on the first floor of the library with the sole purpose of allowing those in the WPI community to take time to quiet the mind.
Although located in the library’s quiet area, the incentive for the space has nothing to do with studying. “Last year we noticed there were prayer rugs on the ground floor,” says Amy Lawton, head of the library’s Access Services and Outreach Department. “Students were coming in and praying in a back corner. We just thought, ‘We can do better than this for them.’”
Creating Room to Breathe
Librarian Anna Gold gave Lawton the go-ahead to designate and overhaul the area so the library could fill a clear need where students, faculty, and staff could reflect. After a committee determined the essential elements of such a space, Lawton connected with Jessica Szivos, assistant director of the ODS, who was also considering a space for students to de-stress.
The space has pillows for meditation, plants, 3D puzzles, carpets, prayer mats, white noise machines, and various things to fidget with such as putty or Rubik’s Cubes. A sensory zone with soft stools and a matching large circular table is separate from the prayer zone, but both areas look out over a quiet green space on campus. Students may submit feedback through an anonymous suggestion box on the wall.
“This is not just a space for prayer, but for meditation and de-stressing, too,” says Lawton. “It sounds funny in a library, but we don’t want any studying going on there.” Noise-blocking headphones are welcome, but technology is discouraged. It’s not a place for students to do homework, chat with friends electronically, or catch up on Netflix.
Just because the space is quiet doesn’t necessarily mean it’s still. The ODS was also thinking of creating a kind of sensory zone for students who prefer to de-stress quietly, but also with some kind of motion. Because of that, there’s an area in the Reflection Space for students to walk back and forth if pacing helps them focus.
Szivos says, “Some students want to get out extra energy, and this gives them a place to do it nonverbally.” Some students like to be in motion, but it’s an entirely different process from working out in a gym where they might not know how to use equipment or might not want to see people they know.
Reflecting and Restoring
The space previously functioned as a study space with carrels, which have just been moved to another area of the floor, so no library study space was lost. There’s mention of future additions to the space—rocking chairs, student-painted canvases, and a water feature. Right now, the area is open to anyone in the community who just needs to shut out the wider world for a while. “We want people to feel calm and relaxed and to feel a sense of rejuvenation,” says Lawton. “We want them to feel welcome in a moment when maybe they’re not at their best selves.”
“We need students to take care of themselves—that will make them better students.” -Jessica Szivos
Noting WPI’s intense seven-week semesters, Lawton says students at WPI work hard ... and taking the time for a breather is healthy. “We are here for the whole student,” she says. “Everyone needs to take a moment.” Szivos agrees. “For me, this is along the lines of self-care,” she says. “We know the hustle and bustle of college life and we are making this a priority. We need students to take care of themselves—that will make them better students.”
- By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil