Reflection Room opens in VCU’s Cabell Library to promote student wellness

December 1, 2023
People walking past the Reflection Room

A new resource to help Virginia Commonwealth University students balance their mental and spiritual health amid the pressures of college has opened in James Branch Cabell Library. On the second floor, the Reflection Room is a multipurpose space that gives students a quiet area for meditation, contemplation and prayer.

Irene Herold, Ph.D., dean of libraries and university librarian, said the Reflection Room is an extension of VCU Libraries’ StudyWell initiative, which treats students’ health and wellness as a contributor to their academic success.

The roughly $370,000 project was funded entirely by donations. Contributors “really want to support our students and help them be successful – that just really warms my heart,” Herold said.

While multiple people can, and are encouraged to, use the room at once, it’s not meant for group gatherings.

“And that’s why some of the guidelines for use of the room include no food, no electronics, no sleeping, because that’s not what it’s intended for, but just to create a calming, peaceful atmosphere for you to take a break in,” Herold said.

The project was first envisioned by John Ulmschneider, former dean of libraries, who raised donations for an “interfaith space.” Laura Gariepy, associate dean for research and learning for VCU Libraries, noted the value of having a space for reflection and prayer, including how Muslim students sometimes have had to use library stairwells for daily rituals.

“But also the other equally important thread has been about making library spaces more focused on the whole student experience, as opposed to just the kind of academic grind in the libraries,” she said.

That was an important theme for Kelly Gotschalk, who led fundraising for the project as VCU Libraries’ director of development and major gifts.

“Our Reflection Room is a space that recognizes that being a student today is an extremely stressful experience,” she said. “This Reflection Room is a place, a physical reminder, to stop, check in with themselves, see how they feel [and] practice mindfulness.”

Gotschalk said fundraising in Ulmschneider’s honor was spurred when he retired in 2020 after 21 years at VCU.

“People wanted to do something to recognize him … and that really was what got us over the threshold as far as giving goes,” she said.

The roughly 400-square-foot Reflection Room is very open, with minimal furnishings and decorations, to foster a calming environment.  Gotschalk said design elements were influenced by student input before construction. Herold said they did a survey of other academic libraries that had similar spaces, and shared the plans as they developed in open sessions and with student groups and others.

The Reflection Room already has seen plenty of use from students since its opening this semester.

“We’ve been pleased to see uptake for the room for its intended purpose,” Gariepy said.

This article by Amelia Heymann first appeared in VCU News. 

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