This academic year, the Islamic holiday of Ramadan — Sunday, May 5, 2019 to Tuesday, June 4, 2019 — will overlap with finals, senior week and graduation. As the observance of this holiday could present some academic challenges for Muslim students, the College is working to provide different accommodations.
During the month of Ramadan observing Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset. This could mean that, for tests around midday or later, students would not be at peak performance.
“If you … fast all day, that just puts some obvious challenges during one of the most academically stressful parts of the year,” Rachel Kessler ’04, Kenyon chaplain and priest-in-charge at Harcourt Parish, said.
Marc Bragin, Jewish chaplain and director of Kenyon Hillel, reflected on his experience with Jewish holidays during which fasting is observed. “You can’t really concentrate … You concentrate on yourself. You look inward. You fast in order to make yourself spiritually aware,” he said. “Going and having an exam and doing that are not really congruent.”
One accommodation the College is considering is providing alternative meal times for students. “We in the religious life office are looking to provide food, before sun-up, so that [Muslim students] can eat breakfast at 4:30 or 5 in the morning,” Bragin said. This meal might be held at the Center for Global Engagement (CGE) although nothing has been finalized. The Office of Religious Life is also looking into providing food that students can box up and take with them to eat after sunset or before sunrise, according to Kessler.
This provision of meals outside of Peirce hours is important, notes Professor of Mathematics Noah Aydin.“[Students] don’t have time to cook for themselves, especially at the end of the semester and during the finals week,” he said. “It would be very helpful if AVI can provide those meals for students who are fasting.”
The Office of Religious Life intends to advocate for students by encouraging professors to allow fasting students to eat during the exam, should it fall after sunrise, or to move exams around for individuals, according to Thomas Hawks, dean of Academic Advising and Support. “We haven’t made any decisions on it yet … But we’re aware that that’s a place where a lot of our attention is going to be focused,” he said.
Bragin also noted that the Office of Religious Life always welcomes feedback from students. “We can’t know everything, and so if there are some things that [Muslim students] need help with, we’re happy to do that. All they have to do is come ask,” he said.
Kenyon’s academic policy states that “the College will support students who observe religious and faith holidays.” Missing class for religious observances is an excused absence although students should report it to their professors at the start of the semester, and should expect to make up all missed classwork. Hawks says there will likely be additional policy put into place around religious observances, in light of Ramadan’s current position in the academic year.
“We’re going to try to talk with students themselves, talk with the faculty. We’re certainly working a lot with the chaplains, and since this will have an impact on international students, we’re also working with the CGE, and trying to figure out what kinds of accommodations would be appropriate,” Hawks said.
The Office of Academic Advising and Support will be working with students, faculty, the chaplains, and the CGE to determine what accommodations are necessary.
“We are still at the information gathering stage at this point, but our goal is to come up with some policies that allow students to do their best, especially during finals,” Hawks said.
Bragin says that he hopes that professors and the Provost will work to make themselves aware and supportive of people’s spiritual beliefs. “All we have to do is work together and see what the best way is in order to navigate these holidays,” he said. “Same thing with Muslim holidays, Jewish holidays, Christian holidays, whatever the case may be. Sitting down, having a conversation, and trying to understand each other.”