Virginia Tech often highlights its commitment to diversity and promise of a level playing field for all students. Religious minorities looking to celebrate their holidays have struggled to reconcile this with their lived experiences at Virginia Tech. The Faculty Handbook and Hokie Handbook leave discretion for faculty to not accommodate students trying to observe holidays such as Yom Kippur — a Jewish holiday that requires fasting — and Maha Shivaratri — a Hindu holiday that also calls for fasting. These policies are set up so that even if a student were to notify faculty within a reasonable amount of time for a well-established holiday, the student’s request may still be denied.
Tests, classwork, etc., can be rescheduled. Holidays cannot. Any member of faculty who academically penalizes a student for observing their faith violates the Third Affirmation of the Virginia Tech Principles of Community and puts our university in conflict with federal law. It is time our university did something about it.
There is nothing special about accommodating students — accommodations are given on a need-basis. Creating a policy like this would not grant some special status to Jews, Muslims, Hindus or other groups — it would level the playing field. I have never had an exam or class on a Sunday or on Christmas, but as a Jewish student I have had to go to class on Yom Kippur to take tests.
Virginia Tech is far behind other institutions in accommodating these observances. The University of Virginia has a great policy to handle this sensitive topic, and one specifically on Ramadan which occurs during this year's spring exams. Many other institutions similar to Virginia Tech make these accommodations.
The Student Government Association of Virginia Tech passed legislation to have higher university governance revise policy in Hokie Handbook and Faculty Handbook to do so. The university would be wise to take a proactive approach in educating faculty and helping this student-led initiative become a reality.
To Virginia Tech’s administrators, faculty and staff, many undergraduate and graduate students are hurting and cannot bear this burden alone. Now is the time for us to choose between falling further apart or finally moving forward as a community.