Two issues of Muslim practice – whether the call to prayer should ring out across Harvard Yard and whether the university should grant women separate gym hours – have unleashed small waves of controversy over how Harvard practices tolerance.
Heated discussions have erupted on dormitory chat rooms, students said, while various opinion articles in the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, have denounced both practices.
“I think that because Harvard is a secular campus, there is a fear among some students that religious beliefs or practices might be imposed on people who don’t want anything to do with them,” said Jessa Birdsall, a 20-year-old sophomore who said she thought the university should accommodate the beliefs of all students.
The debate began in early February, when the undergraduate college restricted one of the three largest gyms on its main campus, the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center, to women only on Mondays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.
The college spokesman, Robert Mitchell, would not describe how the decision was reached, but various students said a small group of Muslim women undergraduates living in the Leverett House dormitory asked for the change.
The group of women felt that workout clothes violated the Muslim prescription that both sexes wear modest dress in shared environments. So they asked that the dormitory set aside its mini gyms for women a few hours each week. The request eventually made its way to the Harvard College Women’s Center and it was decided that the Quadrangle center, which Mr. Mitchell called the college’s least-used athletic facility, would be restricted to women only at certain times. He said the change was an experiment that would be re-evaluated in June. (MORE)