On Sept. 8, Eckerd College Organization of Students (ECOS) Executive Council members sent emails to 189 professors asking for classroom accommodations for religious holidays, namely Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as Election Day.
“We are working on an initiative to better support students on campus regarding religion and civic engagement,” the email read. “To do this, we believe it is important to request that large tests and projects are not scheduled on religious holidays and election days.”
Acknowledging that syllabi can’t be altered on short notice, the ECOS members asked for professors to pledge to accommodate certain days to support students.
Their decision to reach out to faculty was driven by conversations regarding diversity on campus and religious holidays throughout the academic year. Madalyn Ryan, vice president of academic affairs, set up a meeting with Dean of General Education Heather Vincent, who is also an associate professor of classics, to discuss how ECOS could initiate accommodations on campus. Vincent noted that the fall semester had already begun and changes to syllabi must be requested at least a year in advance.
“We decided as a collective that it would be better that we at least try,” Ryan said. “And see how many faculty members would be willing to make these accommodations and that it would be attainable.”
Sending the email were Christyna Reagan, ECOS president; Maddie Reifsteck, executive vice president; Anna Novak, vice president of financial affairs; Ryan; Jordan Mallis, parliamentarian; Skyler Gionfriddo, chief of staff; Saige Puryear, cultural council liaison and Preciosa (Prech) Potesak, liaison to the Office of Inclusive Excellence.
The response from professors was mostly positive. Many professors reached out assuring ECOS members that they had no exams or large projects fall on High Holy Holidays.
However, there was pushback on the request to accommodate Election Day, with some professors stating that they didn’t understand the reasoning behind it to ECOS. Several professors were also upset about the timing of the request, while others preferred to work with students on an individual basis rather than change the entire course progression.
“We would like students to be able to not have to pick between religion and education. It’s unfair,” Ryan said. “We wanted to give them the opportunity to practice their religion on those holidays without being overwhelmed.”
Last semester, Ramadan, Good Friday and Passover all fell on the same weekend. During that time, conversations between Religious Life on campus and ECOS sparked a special CPS event hosted by the Arabic club to recognize the holiday. Former Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs Will Stanley also pushed for free clamshells to be passed out during the month of fasting to accommodate Muslim students on campus.
“As we think about diversity and belonging on campus and showing respect to one another, religious holidays and identities are important parts of life for many Eckerd students,” Doug McMahon, director of Religious Life and chaplain, said.
Religious Life, along with ECOS, Residence Life, Bon Appetit and the Office of Admission are collaborating to improve communication across campus, especially online at Eckerd’s website. McMahon hopes that religious or spiritual students on campus can easily access information about religious life on campus and they can engage prospective students and their families.
“Spiritual life is one of the key values we hold as a community whether someone is considering Eckerd or is already a student on campus,” McMahon said. “Conversations since last spring have led us seeking to improve communication out of the sense of hospitality and respect.”
Students are welcome to contact any ECOS officer or Religious Life staff to further discuss religious holidays and/or religious accommodations.