Religious and Spiritual Accommodations Allow Students Time to Celebrate Other Religious Holidays
Testing Your Faith Act (H.B. 353) was enacted in the Spring 2023 semester. In ordinance with this bill, Kent State University created a new administrative policy for religious and spiritual accommodations. This administrative policy allows students to report up to three days of unexcused absences to participate in religious holidays or community-held events in alignment with their spirituality. Professors are required to accommodate these students given that the students notify instructors within 14 days of the start of a semester. All syllabi are required to include this policy.
The enforcement of post-secondary holiday accommodations is a huge part of an ongoing debate between the importance of equity versus equality in education. This bill allows students of minority, under-recognized beliefs to freely practice their religion and spirituality without penalty.
Christian holidays like Christmas and Good Friday are typically recognized on every-day and national calendars. These are holidays that students have systemically been given time off for, especially in K-12 education. What these public education systems often neglect is the same leeway for other religious holidays or celebrations like Hanukkah, Pesach (Passover), and Eid (al-Fitr).
“Accommodation for time, I think is in a pluralistic society and for a university, a state university, because if it's going to keep some “religious” holidays, it should provide accommodation for persons who celebrate other religious holidays.” David Odell-Scott, Ph.D., a professor and program director of the religious studies minor at Kent State, said.
To accommodate other religions to the privilege that nationally recognized religious holidays currently hold in post-secondary education, policies like Kent State University’s adoption of H.B. 353 are vital to ensuring equal support of the personally-held identities of all students.
“I think we should have made such accommodation just simply by virtue of being decent human beings who try to adjust and accommodate our students and our colleagues, because we come from very different cultures,” Odell-Scott said.
Student organizations such as Hillel offer students safe places to express their religious and spiritually held beliefs with those who share them.
Morgan Pearle, a sophomore studying Digital Media and Design, is currently Hillel’s Vice President of Social Engagement and Marketing.
“I found the Hillel booth at DKS (Destination Kent State) last year over the summer.” Pearle said, “It made me feel like really comfortable and excited to come to college because I was nervous.”
For religious students, especially freshmen living on-campus, allowing students to express themselves is heavily correlated with their sense of belonging. Organizations such as Hillel have previously issued religious excuses on behalf of students to professors in the past, but until H.B. 353, professors at public institutions everywhere were not mandated to follow these religious accommodations. Pearle expressed that this now mandatory respect enforced by policy puts her at ease.
“I definitely think [H.B. 353] gives people the chance to feel safe in their religion, which I know can be scary when you're leaving your own bubble,” Pearle said.
For Dee Warren, Ph.D., an associate dean for curriculum and undergraduate education in the College of Arts and Sciences at Kent State, identity affirmation is vital to student success.
“If [students] feel supported and they feel like they belong and that they are appreciated and that they matter, that’s a lot of burden that’s taken off their shoulders,” Warren said.
Kent State has made a commitment to uphold values of respect, compassion, and inclusivity both on campus and within the classroom. There are a plethora of diverse student organizations, events, and support offered at Kent State for minority-held religious beliefs and other factions of identity likewise.
“[The celebration of differences] is important, number one, for the students.” Warren said, “I think to be able to network or be involved with other students that are like them in whatever aspect of their identity, and also to see the support from faculty and administrators is important.”
For students looking for safe places to express their religious beliefs, the Kent area offers a variety of places of worship and faculty support.
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Jim Maxwell, 330-672-8028, firstname.lastname@example.org