“I’d rather come on the Dec. 25th than miss my holiday,” senior biology major and Muslim, Sijil Patet said.
Patet is the president of TCU’s interfaith group, Better Together, and is leading the charge with the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life to pass a religious accommodation policy. The goal of this policy is to allow students to observe their religious holy days without penalty, as long as they give their professors proper notice. Their draft asks for at least a two weeks notice to be given to professors.
Many schools across the nation already have a policy similar to the one that is being proposed by RSL.
SMU has had a similar policy for many years. The university’s chaplain, Dr. Stephen Rankin, said the policy allows the university to accommodate people of all religious beliefs.
“The main reason for the policy is to make sure students have access to practicing their faith,” Rankin said.
The idea of the policy has been floating around in RSL for a few years, but Patel got the ball rolling after she was denied an official absence for Eid, one of the two major Muslim holidays. She took the hit on her participation grade and said she was grateful that she didn’t have a lab or she would have been forced to attend.
Britt Luby, associate chaplain, said that she loves seeing when students get involved in initiatives like this. She compared what she is seeing with the religious accommodation policy to that of last year’s movement to make TCU tobacco-free.
“If I want to see things change at TCU, students have to want to do it,” Luby said. “It doesn’t matter what I think or what I want. The school is for the students.”
Campus Life only grants official university absences to those who are representing the university, such as athletes playing in a game or the speech and debate team competing in a competition. Campus Life leaves issues of accommodating students who wish to take a religious holiday off to the professors. Michael Russel, the Dean of Campus Life, said that they hardly see any problems with this and that teachers are usually accommodating.
“I’ve never heard of a student running into trouble, and I’ve been here for over 25 years,” he said.
Russel said that Patet’s situation was unusual and that he would like to talk to her to learn more about what happened to her specifically.
The university only takes one Christian holiday off during the academic calendar, Good Friday. Every other Christian holiday either falls on a weekend or during a break.
Russel said he understands the hypocrisy in taking Good Friday off, but his main concern is which holidays are given an official absence and which ones aren’t.
TCU is trying to market itself as a diverse campus, which includes religious diversity. TCU has become a more diverse campus over the past 5 years, growing its non-Christian population by 17 percent. Patet said these people are important and should be able to celebrate their religious holidays if they want to.
“TCU advocates that they want to be all-inclusive and promote a global mindset,” she said. “You can’t do that if you don’t let people act on their beliefs.”
What do Other Schools Do?
SMU’s religious holiday policy goes beyond students and encompasses all members of the university. Students must notify professors in writing by the 12th day of the semester if they plan on missing a class for a religious holiday. Rankin said this is to make sure students don’t abuse the policy to get extra time to study for a test at the last minute.
Ted Legatski, Chair of the TCU faculty senate and professor in the Neeley School of Business, said that he sees the value of having a religious accommodation policy, even if it was rival SMU’s idea.
“I’m not in the habit of praising SMU, but I think their policy appears reasonable,” Legatski said. “I would definitely support a policy that emphasizes our recognition of and respect for people of all faiths as valued and equal members of the Horned Frog family.”
There is no official timeline for when RSL will propose their policy to SGA and Faculty Senate, but they hope to start their presentations next semester.