Religious accommodations provided for Ramadan during final exams

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This spring marks the first instance in which campus administration will grant religious accommodations for the Islamic holiday Ramadan, which this year lasts from May 5 to June 4 and subsequently conflicts with final exams.

In January, the campus passed a resolution to provide religious accommodations for students during final exams, including flexible exam scheduling, spaces for religious practices and Cal Dining’s to-go meal services. Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos sent an email to the campus community at the beginning of the semester prefacing that students must communicate their accommodation requests by Feb. 15.

“The campus believes strongly in implementing its campus priorities in real and tangible ways, specifically enhancing the student experience and creating equitable experiences for students,” campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email. “Ramadan accommodations is just one of the ways the university is responding and valuing the diversity on our campus.”

ASUC Senator Imran Khan wrote and presented this resolution to campus administrators in January after successfully coordinating with campus administrators to allow accommodations for students celebrating Eid al-Adha, an Islamic holiday also known as the “Festival of Sacrifice,” which coincided with the first day of instruction in the fall.

Khan met with Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Oscar Dubón, Jr. to work on an email that would be sent to the student body regarding accommodations. They also drafted an email template for students to use when contacting their professors regarding accommodation requests.

“I wanted to make sure it (resolution) was done properly and there was a precedent set for future years,” Khan said.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Nuha Khalfay said Khan did a “fantastic” job getting the resolution through to the administration. She noted how this resolution prioritizes the needs of students, particularly those of first-year students who can benefit from the Cal Dining accommodations.

“Making them choose between practicing their religion and getting a grade … ” Khalfay said, “that’s never a decision anyone should have to make.”

ASUC Student Advocate Sophie Bandarkar said in an email that she helped Khan review the language of the resolution and consult on the Academic Senate portion. Bandarkar added that she will help disseminate information about the accommodations to her clients.

Although Kahn noted how campus administrators were very helpful in the process and have displayed a “proactive” effort when it came to supporting diverse communities, there were a couple requests that were not adopted in the final resolution.

Khan recalled requesting a space on campus for students to break their fast and pray together during Ramadan because, according the Khan, a large part of the holiday consists of spending time with friends and family.

“(I) wanted to make sure students didn’t feel lonely or left out … just so they felt welcome and that they could be who they are,” Khan said.

Because of limited space on campus, this request was not granted, but according to the official message from Alivisatos, which Student Affairs is working on providing additional spaces on campus for prayer and meditation.

“Overall, it’s a great step in the right direction,” Khan said. “I hope that future students continue to build on this … so they (students) don’t have to sacrifice who they are to do well.”

Recently, Khan helped hire Doaa Dorgham, the new program manager for the South Asian, Southwest Asian and North African Student Coalition, or SSWANA. According to Khan, Dorgham will play a “vital” role in ensuring all students within the SSWANA population are represented and heard on campus.

“A lot of it is a culture shift,” Khan said. “With the right pressure, we can get things done.”

Khan noted how students receive time off for Christian holidays, but that many people who observe non-Christian beliefs and traditions “can’t celebrate to the fullest or enjoy because they’re not visible or appreciated or understood.”

According to Khan, the burden of requesting religious accommodations currently falls on students, and campus administration could do a better job of “understanding and accommodating” students’ needs and giving them the space to “be themselves.” He emphasized how, for many, celebrating Ramadan is not a choice but rather a pre-existing right.

The campus prefaces that making accommodations does not excuse students from completing course requirements but rather supports adjustments to appropriately honor their religious observances. A religious holiday calendar for the 2018-19 academic year can be found on the campus website and used as a resource for faculty to better respond to religious accommodations.

“I think it’s an extremely important initiative and not giving accommodations would be an academic equity concern,” Bandarkar said in an email. “I’m really happy Senator Khan was so proactive about it and that the administration was so cooperative and supportive.”

Sabina Mahavni covers student life. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sabina_mahavni.