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Ilhan Omar being interviewed in her office on Feb. 23, 2024. Omar sat down with The Minnesota Daily to discuss law enforcement, housing, drug addiction and student concerns.
Campaign Q&A with Ilhan Omar
Published February 25, 2024

Editorial: Muslim students deserve wash stations that aren’t in a custodial closet

While the University of Minnesota must avoid encouraging religious practice, it should also maintain basic standards of cleanliness.

On Sunday, the Minnesota Daily reported 12 new wash stations are available across the University of Minnesota campus where Muslim students can practice Wudu, the ritualistic cleansing of the face, hands and feet before prayer. As it turns out, these wash stations are filthy basins in custodial closets, where many students don’t feel comfortable practicing, according to Daily reporting. We feel the University needs to provide more suitable wash stations that are accessible to all students, regardless of religion.

Though foot-washing practices are important to many religions, they’re particularly important to some Muslim students who practice five times per day, Mohsen Goudarzi, an assistant professor of Islamic studies, told the Daily. Due to the lack of washing areas, many students are forced to use sinks in public restrooms to wash, which is unsanitary and dangerous.

The University first introduced foot-washing stations in April 2018. Considered multipurpose rooms, the stations are custodial closets retrofitted with a faucet and drain. The unwholesome stations are impractical for students because Wudu requires both hands. The stations utilize a handheld hose, plus the water pressure is much too high to be used.

Our University is not the first to implement foot-washing stations. St. Cloud State University introduced stations around 14 years ago, Minneapolis Community and Technical College introduced stations around 12 years ago and Minnesota State University Mankato implemented stations a year later.

The difficulty lies in the separation of church and state. Legally, the University is not allowed to introduce religion-specific washing stations. We realize the University may face opposition and there are obstacles to outfitting spaces for religious practice in a public university. However, some campuses, like University of Michigan-Dearborn, have called the wash stations a “health and safety measure, not a religious decision,” according to The New York Times to avoid controversy.

While the University hasn’t received large amounts of backlash, the stations haven’t necessarily received praise. A majority of students don’t feel comfortable or clean when using the wash stations, Samia Abdi, Muslim Student Association student affairs coordinator, said to the Minnesota Daily. 

MSA collaborated with Facilities Management in choosing locations for the stations, but not the design. Abdi said they hope to better coordinate with Facilities in the future when it comes to implementing more stations.

Though we praise the University in this piecemeal action, our diverse student population deserves more than custodial closets. University Services and Facilities Management must address the persistent sanitation issues and provide students with better foot-washing facilities. We suggest the University add tiling, decrease water pressure, ensure the washing stations are not being shared with custodial staff and maintain a basic standard of cleanliness. We believe this to be entirely possible and well within the ability of the University to do without tying it to a religious organization.

Moreover, the University should model other universities’ initiatives – including UM-Dearborn and fellow state colleges. To solve this issue, university officials should look to retrofit multi-purpose wash stations in restrooms for the health and safety of the entire student body.

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