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A week ago, New York City Mayer Bill De Blasio fulfilled a campaign promise to integrate the New York City public school’s system to include the Muslim Holidays of Eid- al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr. The move is historic, both because it complements the inclusion of the Jewish High Holy Days which had previously been incorporated into the calendar some years back and because it overcomes former Mayer Michael’s Bloomberg’s resistance to doing it. But more importantly, it now sets a bar by which every school of higher education in the country could (and should) adhere to.
On the campus of the University of Minnesota, where I work, the lack of support of religious diversity is extremely evident. The University does not recognize holidays for Muslim students, does not have in place adequate dining options to accommodate for the beliefs and practices on campus, and remains woefully ignorant of the need to have appropriate prayer space for a group that has outgrown their space for Friday afternoon prayer. In general, the University is behind the times and generally where many public universities and some private universities remain today.
The move from the Big Apple though gives schools a chance to utilize the precedent in changing the entire structure of the campus calendar. By giving these days off school, the University avoids the challenges of meeting the needs of a certain group of students while having other students continue to attend class. This of course may be too difficult though with the number of hours required in class to meet credit requirements. An alternative method was proposed by Andrew Delblanco in his 2012 book College: What it Was, is, and Should Be. In it, Delbranco argues that universities should simply create “blackout days” where in the university would be restricting itself from holding any form of test or assignment due date on these dates. This means that a student could miss class (a choice that many students make frequently regardless of religious holidays) but that student would not be penalized or pressured to be present. In this way, the college calendar would continue as it seems to have always done, but students could practice their traditions in the ways they feel most comfortable. It also would meet the requests of those non-faith members of campus who do not believe their learning should be affected by these religious holidays.
Either way, the new reality is that higher education can not longer overlook this vital part of human identity and the growing pressure that should come from the largest public school system’s move for inclusion. With almost 20 million college students attending U.S. universities, it is time for those who are in leadership to step forth and make the bold steps that are needed to move from the de facto Christian calendar to one that further encompasses the diversity that exists on campuses and that we hope continues to thrive in our country.