The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Students report lack of on-campus religious accommodations and support

Students stated that this lack of accommodations includes unexcused absences during religious holidays, limited Campus Dining options and inequitable access to worship spaces.
Lexie Perez
Graphic depicting a student surrounded by religious symbols. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)

Members of Vanderbilt Chabad, Vanderbilt Hillel, the Muslim Student Association and Vandy Karma, have reported being unable to secure academic accommodations when observing religious holidays such as Eid, Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Students are also working with Campus Dining and administration to request meal-related accommodations and the establishment of more on-campus worship spaces.

Chabad President Ester Teper, a senior, said several Chabad members were unable to secure excused absences or take assessments on alternate dates during the Fall 2022 semester when observing Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. She added that the lack of accommodations has been university-wide—not specific to any school or department.

“There were a few students who either went to class [on Yom Kippur] because the professor was unwilling to move the exam or unwilling to let that student take the exam at a different time, whether it be earlier or later,” Teper said. 

Teper also said students in full observance of some Jewish holidays are not allowed to use technology or do work related to school or employment for the duration of the holiday. According to Teper, these students may face additional hurdles with completing assignments and accessing campus spaces. 

“Someone who’s fully observant can’t get into dorm rooms, can’t use their phones and can’t go on Brightspace,” Teper said. 

Hillel President Carly Stewart, a senior, said she believes it is important that students are not penalized for absences during religious holidays. She added that the university should proactively make professors aware of religious holidays so that they can avoid scheduling exams or assignments on these dates.

“It upsets me that students have struggled to get excused absences or to reschedule their exams,” Stewart said in a message to The Hustler. “The Jewish High Holidays are the holiest days of the year for us, and to have to choose between one’s education and one’s culture or faith is not a situation in which any student should have to be put.”

Senior and MSA Vice President Zakariyya Alquran similarly said he has experienced exam and assignment conflicts while observing religious holidays such as Ramadan and Eid.

“Going back to freshman year, gen chem exams were at the same time [as] when we broke our fast in Ramadan, and they allowed us to take the exam an hour later to give us time to break our fast before the exam,” Alquran said in a message to The Hustler. “That was nice, but it still wasn’t ideal to have to miss out on religious practices at night in Ramadan for an exam.”

Alquran added that accommodations during religious holidays are important to ensure that students still feel as though they are able to celebrate.

“It’s challenging enough for many to be away from home during these special occasions, so religious accommodations are the least that Vanderbilt could do to ensure students are able to practice and enjoy them,” Alquran said in a message to The Hustler.

MSA members met with Emily Svennevik, the registered dietician for Campus Dining, on Nov. 1 to discuss accommodations for Ramadan, as well as concerns related to halal options and cross-contamination with non-halal meals. Nahmrah Ajmal, a senior and MSA president, said Ramadan accommodations were previously limited to suhoor boxes available in the Munchie Marts to be picked up and eaten as a pre-fast meal. However, per Ajmal, these boxes were often taken by non-fasting students, were not available in all Munchie Marts and did not provide adequate nutrition.

“The foods are like muffins, cereal, fruit and juice, so they’re not the most balanced meal especially for someone who will then be fasting all day,” Ajmal said in a message to The Hustler.

Ajmal said that she was pleased with the outcome of the meeting with Svennevik.

“[Svennevik] was very receptive to everything we had to say and definitely encouraged (maybe even appreciated) the feedback,” Ajmal said in a message to The Hustler. “A lot of the items discussed will take some time to actually be visible so not entirely sure yet if the changes are being made; it’s all very promising.” 

First-year and Vandy Karma Outreach Chair Rashi Gupta said Vandy Karma is petitioning for the establishment of a Hindu worship space on campus. Current worship spaces include the Benton Chapel, the Ben Schulman Center for Jewish Life, the All Faith Chapel, the Baptist Collegiate Ministry, the Office of the University Chaplain & Religious Life’s annex and St. Augustine’s Chapel.

Many other religious life groups on campus have a designated room where students can come to pray on a daily basis,” Gupta said in a message to The Hustler. “Unfortunately, Hindu students are not afforded the same privilege.”

The Equal Opportunity and Access Office’s website encourages students seeking religious accommodations, such as makeup exams and rescheduled assignments, to submit a Reasonable Accommodation Request Form. However, Teper stated that this form is time-consuming. She added that students may feel uncomfortable filling out these forms or requesting accommodations while still enrolled in the course in which accommodations were made unavailable previously.

“You cannot ask a freshman, a first-semester freshman, to walk into class and demand two days off and, a week later, another two days off,” Teper said.

While the university sent an email on Sept. 12 noting the Jewish High Holy Days and the process for requesting religious accommodations, Teper said there is still a long way to go to support non-Christian students in observance of religious holidays.

“One of the biggest driving points at the end of the day is that we don’t have school for requirements or any sort of responsibilities on Christian holidays,” Teper said. “It would be a step in the right direction by the school to at least grant students the opportunity to be able to celebrate their holidays without having to worry about what a professor will say or how a professor will treat them if they choose to celebrate their holiday to the fullest.”

In a message to The Hustler, the Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion stated that its staff members, as well as those associated with the Center for Spiritual and Religious Life, are available to respond to student questions about religious holidays. They also encouraged students to speak with faculty and submit a request for accommodations. 

“EDI, Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and the Equal Opportunity and Access office are developing a process to enhance communications to faculty and students regarding accommodations, and how to navigate these conversations and provide considerations consistent with the university’s desire for every member of our community to feel they are respected, valued and included at Vanderbilt,” a university spokesperson said in a message to The Hustler.

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About the Contributors
Sally Johnson
Sally Johnson, Former Staff Writer
Sally Johnson ('22) is from Franklin, Tennessee, and is majoring in political science and English with a minor in Spanish in the College of Arts and Science. She can be reached at [email protected].
Lexie Perez
Lexie Perez, Graphics Editor
Lexie Perez (‘26) is from Northern Virginia and is majoring in climate studies and human and organizational development and minoring in business in the College of Arts and Science. She enjoys listening to 70s and 80s pop music, doing the daily Wordle and rooting for the Nashville Predators and Cincinnati Bengals. She can be reached at [email protected].
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