OPINION: Religious minorities at the 5Cs deserve space to observe holidays

A person wearing a backpack looks longingly into a synagogue.
(Ella Lehavi • The Student Life)

No student should have to expect to go out of their way to accommodate themselves in a way their peers don’t have to. Yet every year, as a Jewish student, I find myself fighting to have the space to celebrate my holidays without falling behind academically.

I grew up in an area with a large Jewish population. My public high school gave us days off for Jewish holidays. Going into college, I knew I probably would have classes, clubs and other meetings scheduled on my holidays. Attending an institution where I am part of a religious minority means that my culture and religion won’t always be centered. However, students from religious minorities still deserve support from the administration and professors.

Many professors will excuse absences for religious reasons. However, students will still have to do makeup work outside of class. Christian students never have to worry about missing class or backlogged work because of Christmas or Easter, as these holidays are cushioned by long breaks or inherently fall on non-school days.

As a Jewish student, I expect to start fall semester off by missing two days worth of classes within ten days of each other for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, the holiest Jewish holidays. Then, I expect to have to attend class and deal with a backlog of work while physically recovering from the fast of Yom Kippur. Moreover, I expect that Scripps College administration won’t even bother to send out an email recognizing the holiday. Jewish student organizations will have to pick up the slack. If we go out of our way to ask, Scripps Associated Students (SAS) and Scripps Communities of Resources and Empowerment (SCORE) will include our holidays in their newsletters. But when it comes to the celebration itself, we are forced to miss out on clubs, classes and other opportunities with little support. 

Going into the semester, I know I can’t get sick or have a bad day and skip a class because I’ll already miss at least two days to celebrate my holidays. I don’t expect days off, but I wish there was more support. For example, professors could have a specific procedure for missing holidays. The dates for these annual holidays are known way ahead of time. Ensuring that professors are aware of the holidays their students celebrate allows them to plan and come up with specific ideas to see that students celebrating don’t get left behind.

Those of us who actively practice non-Christian religions must build up our communities on campus and support each other. In an environment where we have to make every effort to observe our holidays, having people to fall back on matters more than ever — both within and outside of our communities. The support of students of all religious beliefs makes space for us on these campuses. Having students wish us a happy holiday, ask to learn about our traditions and avoid scheduling important events on our holidays means the world. 

I understand that accommodating every possible religious and cultural holiday is not possible. But sending an email for those that may be more common in our community — such as Jewish, Hindu and Muslim holidays — is one small yet impactful step the administration could take to make space for students from these religions and cultures on campus. Additionally, while covering every holiday in a classroom is not possible, making space for holidays students in the class celebrate is. 

Instead of simply excusing absences, professors could invite students to share which holidays they celebrate and then make sure no important content is covered that day. I know this isn’t possible for every course, but this type of philosophy would give students the message that they deserve to be able to celebrate their holidays. Students need to know that their holidays aren’t an afterthought.

Ella Lehavi SC ’24 is from Woodland Hills, California. Ella enjoys bagels with lox and engaging in the Jewish tradition of kvetching.

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