Across the sprawling University of South Florida campus, lawn mowers drone and sledgehammers pound. But inside the Serenity Room, the only sound is an air conditioner's gentle whoosh.
Students enter the tiny, half-moon-shaped alcove stressed. They leave calm, unburdened.
USF officials say they incorporated the pale-green room into their design for the brand-new, 233,000-square-foot Marshall Student Center to give the university's 39,000 students an oasis in the desert, a harbor in the storm of hectic campus life.
They also wanted to provide a place for the campus' large Muslim population to pray.
"Students had been asking in a very general way for a place for reflective time," said Jennifer Meningall, head of student affairs. "We had a special request from Muslim students asking for a place to express their religious freedom without infringing on anyone else."
With the start of Ramadan on Monday, more Muslim students have been finding their way to the Serenity Room. Ala Elyaman, a junior majoring in education, visited twice on Tuesday with her three sisters.
"Before, we were praying in the library in the basement behind some bookshelves," said Elyaman, 18. "This kind of lets us know that they care we're around."
Diyanah Elyaman, 21, said she hopes the Serenity Room might help dispel some of the misunderstandings about Muslim students. When it comes to prayer and meditation, she said, Muslim students aren't so different from Jewish or Christian students in their desire to find a quiet place to worship. (MORE)