Memorial Union renovations feature foot baths for religious students

The new additions are some of University's most recent steps to make religious accommodations

The newly renovated Memorial Union now features foot baths, or ablution rooms, for students who wish to clean themselves before prayer, said an University official. 

Located in the building’s basement, the two rooms are found near the Sparky’s Den area and the MU Interfaith Reflection Room.

The installation of these foot baths is a recent University-enforced effort to provide religious accommodations on campus.

"In conversations with students during the development phase of the project, there was an expressed desire for spaces for private washing," said Michele Grab, the executive director of the Memorial Union, in an email. "It is safer and more inclusive to have dedicated spaces rather than students using public restrooms for religious washing."

Ablution is a religious practice participated in by members of several faiths, including Judaism, Shinto and Islam, according to Encyclopedia Britannica

ASU is not the only university to install foot baths that students can use for prayer.

Nationwide, over a dozen universities have ablution rooms, such as George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and several universities in Michigan. 

Some schools have received negative outcry regarding the installation of these features, according to a New York Times report. At the University of Michigan-Dearborn, the installation of foot baths were met with both excitement and controversy, the article said. 

Samia Salahi, a freshman studying psychology and a practicing Muslim, said the installation of on-campus foot baths is a great addition and shows an increase in religious accommodation at ASU.

“It makes me so happy to hear that ASU is going to these lengths in providing an easier way for Muslims to pray,” Salahi said. “This is another grand step in encouraging the Muslim community into ASU.”

The foot baths will make practicing Muslims’ lives much easier, she said.

“When I went to Syria, we washed our feet in sinks before we would pray,” Salahi said. “(The foot baths are) such a cool idea because have you ever tried to wash your feet in a sink?” 

With almost 100,000 students, ASU hosts individuals of many religious beliefs and aims to be home to a supportive and inclusive community, according to the University’s religious and spiritual life website.

According to the same website, ASU is home to 57 campus organizations dedicated to religious and faith-based practices.

Ramey Smith, an employee at the Memorial Union's information desk and a computer information systems senior, said most students are unaware of the new foot baths in the basement.

"They finished renovations at the end of September," Smith said. "I haven't had anybody ask me about them yet, but I'm sure it goes hand-in-hand with the quiet room downstairs for people that want to pray."

Smith said she feels that not many students know about these accommodations because they're new, but awareness may increase later on.

Despite the lack of community knowledge about the new foot baths, Smith said it's beneficial that the University provides them.

"I think it's a good idea," Smith said. "I'm glad that they do try to accommodate all different kinds of religions." 

Reach the reporter at Kimberly.Rapanut@asu or follow @kimrapanut on Twitter

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