Hosting campus-wide events during religious holidays sends a message: religion is unwelcome here

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By Ella Frazer

For an institution created by a Methodist Bishop and his congregation, the University of Puget Sound has become so secular it is almost anti-religious.

This semester, there is a Decision Puget Sound weekend for admitted students scheduled for March 30 to 31, which happens to be the weekend of two major religious holidays.

March 30 is Good Friday in the Christian calendar and the first night of the Jewish holiday, Passover. Traditionally, the Seder dinner should be held after sundown on the first night of Passover to commemorate the exodus of Jewish slaves from Egypt. Good Friday remembers the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and is the Friday before Easter Sunday.

“First, let me say that the Office of Admission endeavors to be inclusive and welcoming to all students interested in the University of Puget Sound,” Shannon Carr, Associate Vice President for Admission, said in an email to The Trail, “This year we are hosting six Decision Puget Sound events for admitted students. In addition, we host individual campus visits (tours, class visits, overnight stays) weekdays throughout the year.”

The six Decision Puget Sound events are scheduled beginning March 2 and continuing through the weekend of April 20. “Because we have been thoughtful to provide a wide range of dates and other opportunities to visit campus,” Carr said, “I do not think that our decision to host an event on March 30-31 will impact student participation.”

But who are the students that will be participating? There is a reason we don’t see more religious diversity on this campus, and scheduling events over holidays – even Christian holidays that are so visible and easily avoidable in the United States – does not help to tell prospective and enrolled students that religious identities are welcome here.

Secularism – meaning non-religious and non-spiritual – by itself is not necessarily a problem; people should not be pressured to practice something they do not believe in. The issue arises, though, when members of the campus community are burdened with having to choose between religious observation and community engagement.

It is no surprise that the academic calendar conflicts with major holidays in almost every religious tradition except Christianity. Even the way the workweek is structured, with Saturday and Sunday off, puts people in other faith traditions at a disadvantage because they often have to choose professional obligations over practice. These factors already make it difficult for practitioners across the country, and planning events without consideration for certain days in the year only adds stress.

It is disappointing to see campus events held during religious holidays year after year, but it is even more disappointing that this is my fourth year here and I can count on one hand the number of students I’ve seen wear a hijab. Muslims made up 24 percent of the world’s population in 2015 – 1.8 billion people – according to the Pew Research Center, but we accept this lack of representation, the almost complete absence of one of the most visible displays of faith, as completely normal.

This isn’t to say that community members are not trying. The 2017 LogJam event this fall fell on Eid al-Adha, a major Islamic holiday. Amanda Diaz, President of the Associated Students of the University of Puget Sound (ASUPS), along with her executive team, made sure to take this into consideration in planning an event that “has always been on the first Friday of the first week of school,” Diaz said in an email.

“While tradition is important for a lot of members of the community,” Diaz said, “changing the date of an event was a no brainer if Muslim students wanted it. … I think at UPS, we tend to make decisions for certain populations without actually talking to them and asking them what they actually want. So I contacted the Muslim Student Association to see what the best solution to this was.”

Diaz and her team met with numerous campus administrators after speaking with leaders in the Muslim Student Association (MSA), and decided to donate one third of the food served at LogJam in ingredients to local “food bank/s and to religious, social, and cultural centers in Tacoma,” Diaz said.

ASUPS also provided non-pork options at the event, and advertised all of this information on the LogJam flyer. “All in all,” Diaz said, “we worked really closely and listened to the needs of the MSA and the Muslim students on campus to make sure we heard them and acted on what they needed us to.”

Diaz and her team set a great example for all of us. We need to pay attention and listen to what students and other community members need – even more so for students that observe religious traditions other than Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, because their needs are ignored with more frequency.

Actions like not scheduling campus events during religious holidays are a very small way to tell religious community members they are welcome here, as well as tell prospective students and their families that even though we might not practice with them, we at least have an appreciation and basic understanding of such an important part of so many lives.

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