For most Otterbein students, having an extra day last weekend was beneficial because they could have utilized it to catch up on work, spend time with friends and family, or relax before finals began. Students only had that day (Friday, April 15th) off, though, because it was Good Friday, a Christian holiday.
But wait, did we forget to mention that the entire month of April is Ramadan? How come Muslims don't have a day off on campus or aren't offered campus-wide accommodations for their religious practices that must be carried out? They aren't the only ones whose practices go unnoticed; this is true of all religious minorities on campus.
“I’m part of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) organization. It’s just starting, so I feel like we do need a lot more work to have Otterbein's campus to really understand what it's like to be a Muslim student at Otterbein”, Freshmen Hanan Hussein said.
To have a better understanding, a minority is a group of individuals who share the same race, culture, or religion but live in an environment where the majority of the people are of a different race, culture, or religion.
Otterbein is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, and the vast majority of students identify as Christians, comprising Catholics and Protestants from major denominations, evangelical denominations, and independent churches. The good news is that other organizations support and provide a community for minority students who identify as Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, or Muslim. The big question is whether these students believe they have the support and ability to practice their religion while on campus or performing schoolwork, especially during holy months like Ramadan when some students are required to fast and perform other rituals.
“I can't really pray as much as I want to. I can't really go to the mosque as much as I want because I have a lot of studies right now, and there’s just so much that professors can do right now but I feel like they really don’t know what it's like in a day to day life of a Muslim student. We have classes, we have labs but we also wanna practice our religion,” Hussein said.
Academic affairs sent out an email to faculty informing them that Ramadan was approaching, what it is, and how it will affect students, which encouraged Rachel Schwartz, assistant professor of political science, history, and political science.
“That was really good because I think we shouldn’t operate under the assumption that all faculty understand various religious observances and what that will mean for their students,” Schwartz said.
This raises the question of how Otterbein will be more aware of students from other minority religious groups on campus, as well as the priorities that must be met for them during significant holidays that occur throughout the academic school year.
“It’s really important for faculty members to be proactive. I think there’s oftentimes an attitude that if students need religious accommodations whether their Muslim or Jewish or some other religion, they should be the ones to request those from faculty members. But I think it's also important for us to remember that the students who often need religious accommodations are members of religious minority groups, and they may not feel comfortable coming to us to request accommodations,” Schwartz said.
So, as we close out this semester, let us remember that there are still students from different backgrounds who may celebrate holidays other than those that are more widely recognized on campus and for which they are granted a day off.
Fall of 2022 will begin with the Hindu holiday of Ganesh Chaturthi and, a little later, the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Knowing this, we can be more aware of what the individuals around us are likely to do differently, which may have an impact on their campus life.
“I am not Muslim, I am not a particularly religious person generally, but that doesn’t mean that I get to throw my hands up and say I don’t understand this so I don’t have to pay attention or I need somebody else to educate me. I can take that on myself to learn," said Schwartz. "It helps me better connect with my students anyway when I know when Ramadan is coming up and I can say to them, hey your gonna be tired, I know your gonna want caffeine and not be able to have it, I understand that this can affect your performance in class, what can we do to make sure that you succeed."