Ithaca College must implement policies where all major religious holidays are factored into its academic calendar. As a Jewish college student, I had to decide to skip classes for religious holidays. My first time this year to make this choice, it was in Septembert. 16, Yom Kippur– the Jewish Day of Atonement and the holiest holiday for the Jews. Jewish students represent 17% of the student population, yet the college only granted students an excused absence and nothing more. Members of the college’s Jewish community were forced to work according to their schedules and fall behind on class in order to observe the holidays. I felt conflicted because I always observed this vacation, but couldn’t fully commit to it because I was preoccupied with my schoolwork.
According to New-York state By law, students may be exempted from classes or exams for religious observances. However, students shouldn’t have to overwhelm themselves trying to keep pace in class. If students are not provided with the necessary accommodations, such as not having homework and Zoom lessons recorded, then vacations become more of a burden than an observance.
While excused absences are vital, they are only the first step in recognizing all major observances of religious holidays. For Jews, it means Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Many of my Jewish friends feel like outcasts in the classroom when they observe religious holidays. They are too busy taking their quick classes not to bother raising the issue. I have heard similar frustrations from my friends of other faiths.
This year the city of Ithaca Sschool Ddistrict decided to start the school year one day late, so it would not conflict with the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Ithaca’s Jewish population is only 1%, yet the district has recognized the importance of these festivals in its community. How is it that Ithaca College has a significantly higher percentage of Jewish population but does not wish to make additional accommodations for those who observe religious holidays?
I understand that the college’s academic schedules are very structured and that giving days off can affect the entire lesson plan. However, I believe the college can implement new rules for all religious holiday celebrations. First, the college can continue with classes, but professors should not assign additional homework on specific religious holidays, students would only have to catch up on class materials under this recommendation. Second, teachers should automatically save Zoom lessons for each holiday. This would allow students to receive the same lessons as their classmates. Third, the faculty needss be lenient with exams on public holidays. Discussions between professors and students must then take place so that compromises can be found. Finally, a special academic calendar for teachers listing all major religious holidays should be created by the administration so that teachers take these dates into account when planning their programs.
What is offered here is practical. Many universities do not have a religious affiliation to accommodate religious students, but some offer special accommodations. Specifically, Binghamton University is one of those schools where classes are not held on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or the first two days of Passover, and it is less than an hour from Ithaca. Middle School.
In 2019, the college set up the Ithaca Forever Strategic Plan, by making a number of community commitments. The goal is to “Become a national model for colleges committed to the values of diversity, equity and inclusion. “While this engagement focuses on diverse conversations and diversification of the college curriculum, it does not appear to address religious diversity and inclusion on campus. When a significant minority community has been impacted culturally and indirectly on campus for almost 50 years, when do we see this as a campus-wide equity issue?