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Faith-based organizations utilize limited spaces in Murray-Dodge Hall

A tree and a park bench stand in front of reddish-brown building.
Murray-Dodge Hall, home to the Office of Religious Life
Louisa Gheorghita / The Daily Princetonian

“That’s the thing about Murray-Dodge — everyone is here.”

This sentiment, expressed by a student as she gathered with her friends outside of the Muslim prayer room on the third floor, is one shared by many patrons to Murray-Dodge Hall, home of the Office of Religious Life (ORL). Dr. Vineet Chander, the ORL’s Assistant Dean of Hindu Life, told The Daily Princetonian that there’s “something in the air, spiritually” that attracts students, whether they are affiliated with a particular faith tradition or not. 

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Chander said the feeling is “contagious” — so contagious that it attracts a large volume of students, leading to a high demand for a limited number of fellowship spaces.

While several faith-based organizations find fellowship in Murray-Dodge, others have expressed a need to expand to larger spaces on campus to host large-scale celebrations and events. 

Despite limited spaces to reserve, the current layout of Murray Dodge allows for vibrant utilization by religious organizations. 

On the first floor, student groups can reserve two different service and meeting rooms, which hold 55 and 35 people, respectively. Joanne Campagnoli-Sismondo, the ORL’s Operations and Events Coordinator, told the ‘Prince’ that there’s an expectation that certain rooms are reserved for weekly activities, including Wednesday’s Gita Study Circle, Thursday’s “Living with Belief” Qur'anic discussion circle, and Friday’s Jumu'ah Gathering. 

Sophia Zelizer ’25, Louisa Sarofim ’25, and Kennedy Walls ’24  organize a weekly Buddhadasa Bhikku meditation class in the downstairs meditation room every Tuesday.

“The space is amazing — beautiful windows, a great energy,” Zelizer said. “The only thing that is a bit annoying is [that] the construction sometimes interrupts our meditation,” she said.

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The second floor has a conference room for speaker events. On the third floor, there are service and meeting rooms, an interfaith meditation room, and a Muslim prayer room. Givarra Abdullah ’26 said that Murray-Dodge is the main hub for Muslims students on campus, but noted that the prayer room is too small to accommodate all students, especially during Friday prayers. Abdullah said that Muslim students expand into the hallways, lobbies, and any open meditation rooms in Murray-Dodge. 

Referencing Princeton Hindu Satsangam’s weekly meetings, which are also heavily-attended, Chander said that ORL has embraced the full spaces as “a very affirming sign that folks want to be here and want to attend those meetings.”

“It’s been challenging, but it’s kind of a good problem to have, in a sense,” he said. Organizations occasionally shift to using larger spaces for special occasions that draw larger attendance than the weekly meetings.  

“While the spaces themselves are flexible, there are not enough spaces for the demand or the types of events some of the groups would like to host here,” Campagnoli-Sismondo said in an email to the ‘Prince.’

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“I’ve only got a certain number of rooms that people can use. Aside from me getting out a hammer and nails and building on an extension, there's nothing I can do about that,” Campagnoli-Sismondo told the ‘Prince.’ “But there are sufficient other places on campus that if a student group cannot get a room here, [it] should be able to get one somewhere else. I think a lot of what it boils down to is our student groups are very comfortable here, and they don't like to go somewhere else, but it’s not always avoidable.” 

Faith-based organizations have adapted to growing membership within limited space by incorporating spaces outside of Murray-Dodge into their frequent meeting areas. For example, Campagnoli-Sismondo said that using Murray-Dodge as both a prayer space and dining space during Ramadan proved difficult, so the Carl A. Fields Center now hosts larger Ramadan celebrations. Katherine Jin ’24, the president of Manna Christian Fellowship, said that Manna hosts their weekly “Large Group” fellowship in East Pyne, and reserves classrooms in Frist Campus Center, Jones Hall, and Spelman Hall. 

Jin noted that she has never had difficulty reserving a room through Murray Dodge, and that the ORL has been “very communicative.”

“The space is something that we are really thankful for, especially because we use a lot of buildings outside of [the ORL],” she said. 

For most of campus, however, the space they are most familiar with is the Murray-Dodge Café, which serves free tea, coffee, and cookies from 3 p.m. to midnight on weekdays. Chander added that this space is the ORL’s “offering to the community.”

“I think students really appreciate the space that we tried to provide for them and work with them to make best use of,” Chander said. “In the best of ways, students and communities have challenged us to think about more space, better use of space, and innovative ways to share space.”

Elisabeth Stewart is an assistant News editor for the ‘Prince.’

Please send corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.