Seeking a Holy Day Off

    Kim Cyprian/Guardian

    Trekking to class late on a Friday afternoon can be disheartening in and of itself, but for students simultaneously missing out on a religious holiday inherent to their cultural identity, the path can be even more problematic.

    Professor Rick Ord, computer-science lecturer for seven years — as well as the director of the computing facility in the department of computer science and engineering from 1988 to 2001 — has witnessed many of his students’ moral conflicts in choosing between class and religious celebration.

    “More and more students, be they Jewish, Muslim, et cetera, have been asking to take quizzes early or do labs on a different day because of Islamic and Jewish holidays that fell on days in early October,” Ord said.

    UCSD does have a contingency policy for students requesting alternate test and assignment dates. On the Academic Senate Web site, the Committee on Educational Policy stipulates that students who anticipate conflicts with final exams must submit a written statement no later than two weeks into the quarter; for other routine testing dates, students must submit a letter to the professor as soon as they discover the conflict, at which point the professor is required to provide an alternative testing option if possible.

    “All of our instructors make all reasonable efforts to accommodate scheduling conflicts with any student’s religious schedule,” university spokesman Rex Graham said in an e-mail. “It is the policy of the university to make reasonable efforts to accommodate students having bona fide religious conflicts with scheduled examinations by providing a lternative times or methods to take such examinations.”

    Some students feel the university could be more sensitive to lesser-celebrated religious holidays.

    “I know a lot of people who can’t make it to events because they had class or midterms that they just couldn’t get out of,” said Revelle College sophomore Sukhreet Ghuman, head of social events for the Sikh Student Association. “I feel like every religious community would want the same equitable treatment in terms of professors observing various religious holidays.”

    Accommodating students with legitimate reasons to be absent from class is not the only issue over which Ord is concerned. After considering more seriously the widely differing backgrounds at UCSD, Ord feels a more complete awareness of these religions and holidays is called for.

    While researching the topic online, Ord stumbled upon the official religious calendar of the University of Indiana, Bloomington. He considered a similar option at UCSD.

    Ord said he’s not asking that an official religious calendar be incorporated into UCSD’s existing campus calendar — just that there should be some sort of calendar identifying the major religious holidays of the world on UCSD’s Web site.

    “It would be extremely difficult to get a universitywide religious calendar supported by all departments,” Ord said. “But one for the public, students, faculty and administrators just needs to be more available.”

    According to the Center for Student Involvement, there are 41 registered religious groups on campus, in addition to a hefty handful of unofficial ones.

    SSA, as one of UCSD’s official religious groups, facilitates student celebratation of the 300-year-old Sikh tradition.

    “Any kind of calendar would help religious organizations throughout UCSD spread the word of their holidays and events, as we lack diversity,” Thurgood Marshall College senior and SSA Director of Events Ruby Bhangoo said. “This will allow those who are passionate and want to celebrate their holidays an opportunity to celebrate them and perhaps even put on an event on campus.”

    Even many nonreligious students agree that the simple act of formally recognizing varying religious groups will help the campus.

    “I consider myself staunchly nonreligious,” John Muir College junior Michelle Louden said. “[But] I think such a calendar would be a positive change because Christians aren’t the only religious group here in the U.S. and within UCSD. We are a very diverse group of people and Christianity shouldn’t be the only religion to have its holidays respected.”

    The University of Southern California’s Web site has a religious calendar, as does UCLA’s. The question professors like Ord and religious minorities are asking is: Why not UCSD?

    “The world is changing,” Ord said. “I grew up in the Midwest, where everyone had names like Bob, Tim, Jane and Mary. People just need to be a little bit more aware of other students’ religious practices these days. It will make us a more united group of people.”

    Louden said she wouldn’t feel left out if accommodations were made for other students of various belief systems.

    “Religion isn’t something we can really argue with,” Louden said. “It’s very personal. If religious students feel they need to have time off to observe holidays while I’m in class, they’re just going to have to work harder to keep up.”

    Ghuman said she hopes her professors will consider making an exception for events like Diwali, the Festival of Lights — celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains — which falls on Nov. 3. During the festival, SSA will light up Library Walk with candles starting at 6 p.m.

    While Ord sympathizes with students who want a religious calendar and policies respecting religious respites, he adds that it’s even more important from a faculty perspective.

    “Some type of available calendar could make it so teachers are aware of ongoing religious events and don’t have to rearrange their schedules when it hits at the last minute,” he said.

    According to Graham, the six-college system — while a continual strength of UCSD — also contributes to the difficulty of keeping students centralized and up to date on events. He said another problem with forming such a calendar, even just online, would be the risk of leaving out religious groups who may not be represented substantially at UCSD but still want recognition.

    Some have concerns about potential abuse of an updated calender.

    “You’re always going to have those people who try to take advantage of the system and don’t act with integrity on things like this,” said Earl Warren College freshman Alexa-Rae Navarro. “Generally, when I look at the UCSD population, I get the vibe of people who really want to be here and are focused on their studies. Even if the option was given to miss class or a test, I feel the majority would completely disregard it. I know I wouldn’t want to give up an important day of class because I know could be getting that much farther ahead.”

    Calendar or no calendar, respecting others in a rapidly expanding, diverse society seems to lie at the heart of the issue.

    As Ord put it: “If you have the opportunity to make allowances for a student with a legitimate religious excuse, why not?”

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