USC is well known for having a diverse student body, with recent student demographic records indicating that nearly 70 percent of students come from an underrepresented ethnic or racial group. With that ethnic diversity also comes cultural and religious variety. Because of that, the University must accommodate all religions by not holding classes on major religious holidays.
The Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr took place on June 3 and 4 this week — as did USC summer classes. This overlap forces Muslim students taking summer classes to make an unfair choice: Attend class and miss an important religious event, or celebrate Eid and miss class.
USC’s calendar, like most educational institutions, is conveniently designed to fit around Christian holidays like Christmas. Similar holidays in other religions, such as the Jewish Yom Kippur or the Islamic Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, aren’t afforded the same consideration.
Given its commitment to diversity, USC should not hold classes during Islamic and Jewish holidays so that students can practice their religion with loved ones without being burdened by falling behind in classes.
Currently, USC’s policy on holy days grants students excused absences and allows them to make up work missed during a religious holiday. The policy also encourages professors to avoid scheduling exams on major holidays but does not require doing so. Religious students are expected to work around their holidays to meet class demands, when the burden should instead lie on the University.
Changing the academic calendar to fit all students’ needs would reaffirm USC’s acceptance of these communities. By giving these holidays the same weight as Christian holidays, the University can set the precedent that all religions are well-respected by the institution.
Students shouldn’t have to choose between honoring the most sacred days of their religion and attending school.
Even though USC has policies requiring that professors excuse religious absences, many USC students may still feel compelled to go to class instead of religious services because they fear that they might fall behind.
Rather than recognizing Islamic and Jewish holidays, many schools have instead responded to complaints by removing all of the names of religious holidays — including Christmas — from the academic schedule, despite their schedules still being created around these holidays.
One way to address the conflicts, professors should at least create class time schedules that are sensitive to religious holidays. While changing a traditional university schedule may seem logistically difficult, if USC truly cares about preserving religious freedom for its surrounding community, professors and administrators, it would find a way to accommodate religious holidays so that students are not forced to choose between their religion and their schoolwork.
The United States has major populations of both Muslims and Jews; according to the Pew Research Center, there are 5.7 million practicing Jews and 3.85 million Muslims in the country. These religions, along with others practiced in America, are not treated as equal to Christianity in most education systems’ calendars. By better accommodating these religions, USC can lead the charge for higher education institutions to show their commitment to religious diversity.
As a university that prides itself on a commitment to diversity, there is no reason for USC not to recognize Muslim and Jewish holidays in its academic calendar.