As Press Herald Staff Writer Cara DeRose recently reported, the University of Southern Maine is in the process of building a new prayer room on the Portland campus, as well as a gender-neutral bathroom, for an astounding cost of $100,000.

Eliminating a source of inconvenience to students was cited as the reason the university is making the renovations – but it’s obvious that the decision by USM administrators was based largely, if not solely, on concerns over forfeiting gains in student enrollment.

After all, more recent anti-Muslim incidents at USM are, in one way or another, a driving force in the decision process, even if no one will admit it. It’s occupying the space where the student government offices, riddled with controversy, resided for so many years.

I’m not arguing that it is wrong of the university to make changes in order for students to feel comfortable and welcomed. What is controversial, in my eyes, is that USM will be spending so much money to renovate a building whose future is still uncertain.

I wrote about the campus changes to take place in 2016 for the Free Press as editor-in-chief, and my in-depth research and interview with President Glenn Cummings revealed that the Woodbury Campus Center was set to be demolished and the parking lot in that area would also be removed. In place of the parking lot, the university would have a grass quad, new dorms would be added, and the student center would be in the area where the community garden is now located.

More recently, there have been students expressing the need for gender neutral bathrooms in the Woodbury campus center, which is home to the Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity. Here, folks have to leave the building to use a different bathroom if they feel uncomfortable using a gendered option.

These kinds of campus changes are so important for our university to feel like an inclusive space, and the issue doesn’t lie in the decision to make these renovations; rather, it begs the question of why USM would chose to make such a financially irresponsible decision if the building in which renovations are made is set to be torn down.

Why install these expensive additions right now if USM will have to start the process all over again in the next few years? Why not spend $100,000 more efficiently?

In a statement from Director of Public Affairs Robert Stein, nothing seems to be definite at this point. The master planning process, he said, is still very much underway, and a final plan will likely come forward for consideration sometime in the spring semester. He said that even if the plan includes replacing Woodbury (which it currently does), it would still be a few years away, but he made no commentary about the potential financial loss that would occur if the building is to be torn down. He ended the statement by saying, “The actual original motivation for the construction was to build a Gender Neutral bathroom … and it was felt that the need for students to have a ‘meditation space’ should not wait that long either.”

USM isn’t the only college to make the decision to offer mediation rooms or foot washing stations for Muslim students. The New York Times wrote an article about these new changes way back in 2007. So, in agreement with Stein, I believe we are “hardly breaking new ground here … more like catching up.”

Perhaps USM won’t go through with the changes now that they’ve spent the money on making renovations.

Perhaps other people expressed concerns with the way USM is spending money, but Stein didn’t talk about that. Perhaps some people feel this prayer room shows favoritism toward a particular religion; perhaps this is why Stein made sure to clarify that the prayer room is actually called a “meditation space.”

When a university prematurely makes the decision to accommodate student religious practices over other student needs, an issue of priorities begins to arise.

Students need financial help through scholarships, they need more affordable study abroad program options, they need healthier food options at lower prices, they need assistance paying for the rising cost of textbooks; they don’t need a prayer room. At least, not one being installed in a building that’s set to be demolished.