FULBRIGHT SCHOLAR FARAZ KHALID had a difficult choice to make.
He was offered scholarships to pursue doctoral studies at two of the top public health schools in the world, Tulane University in New Orleans and the London School in the U.K. He had great Skype conversations with Tulane’s Dr. David Hotchkiss and felt the school was a good fit, but colleagues warned him that he might not find the American South welcoming to a Muslim from Pakistan in a post-9/11 world.
Khalid weighed his options and ultimately committed to Tulane. Doubts lingered, however, especially when he couldn’t find a suitable place to pray. He prayed in his room and, hesitantly, in his office in the Department of Global Health Management and Policy.
At the urging of his office mates, who were also international students, Khalid wrote to the school’s Office of Student Services to ask about a prayer room. What happened next would begin to tear down the stereotype of America as a country hostile to diversity.
Associate Dean for Students T.J. Stranova responded quickly, and soon a student lounge was available for prayer a few hours each day. Khalid was pleased and reached out to Katina Walker, building manager for the Deming Pavilion residence hall which largely serves an international population of graduate students.
“She really wanted to enhance the experience of all the students,” said Khalid of her response. Walker quickly allocated a space for students and posted signs announcing the prayer room.
Word spread, and more and more students started using the student lounge for prayers during the available hours. However, since many students spend their whole day in the building and pray up to three times per day, it didn’t fully serve their needs.
Soon, Khalid, Stranova, and other students and faculty met to discuss having a full-time prayer room, which officially opened last week.
Khalid has been overwhelmed by the response from Stranova and his team. “It is a testament to Student Services that if a student has concerns and raises them appropriately, they will be heard,” he said.
“It’s been an altogether perceptions-changing experience for me,” he went on. He’s now eager to dispel what he feels are myths. He wants to spread a new idea that international students like himself are welcome in the U.S. and that schools like Tulane are eager to be tolerant, respectful, and open to a diversity of cultures.
There’s more to come. “This is just the first step,” said Stranova at the opening. He announced plans for an Interfaith Council to discuss issues and ideas to make the school more welcoming to students of all faiths. The Interfaith Prayer Room is now open during building hours in Room 1506.