Underrepresented religious students balance school and their most sacred holidays

Underrepresented religious students balance school and their most sacred holidays

Photo Credits: ALLYSON KO / AGGIE

Students discuss how they alter their celebrations to cater to the quarter system

Each year, students plan trips home and family vacations to coincide with religious holidays that fall during quarter breaks. Many, however, do not consider other students whose religious holidays fall on school days. Imagine having a midterm during Christmas. While it may be hard to picture, this is the reality for students from underrepresented religious groups.

First-year environmental science and management major Yonim Schweig is a Modern Orthodox Jew who has struggled with practicing his religion since coming to college. Having grown up attending Jewish day school, he has been adjusting to the reality of having to balance school with religious practice.

“So far, several of the Jewish holidays have fallen during midterms or finals, so I have really had to advocate for myself to get them moved,” Schweig said. “Luckily, I have been able to, but you just can’t always count on that.”

Connecting with other religious students on campus has allowed Schweig to feel a stronger sense of community and understanding on campus.

“Living with five Muslim students in a multi-faith living community, I feel a level of solidarity surrounding observance, which I have really appreciated and have been able to learn a lot [from],” Schweig said.

Alumni Neil Singh practices Sikhism and has found it quite difficult to be apart from his family during significant holidays. Hailing from outside of California, Singh is rarely able to celebrate holidays with his family during the school year.

“I sacrificed a lot in terms of my family life and getting in touch with my roots throughout my entire time in college,” Singh said. “I think I would have been a much happier student had I had the opportunity to connect to my heritage.”

Regardless of the many obstacles Singh has faced while practicing his religion in college, he has found joy in sharing his heritage with other students. Holi, an ancient religious festival, fell during Winter Quarter finals week this year, so Singh took this opportunity to share his practice with friends. He celebrated the tradition of throwing pigmented powder and taught the meaning of the holiday. He was not only given the opportunity to celebrate this holiday, but he offered others the opportunity to take a break from studying and learn about another culture.

“The fact that everyone had so much fun and got a break from finals was great,” Singh said. “It showed me that there is a way I could be better about bringing these things to my friends, in order to feel like I have some sense of home.”

First-year undeclared major Danyal Ghori also acknowledges the challenge of being away from his family during holidays but believes it is even more rewarding to practice when it may not be convenient. As a Muslim, Ghori will be celebrating Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr — two significant Muslim holidays — in the upcoming months.

“The inability to be with my family during Ramadan and Eid will be a challenge, but it will also be a new experience,” Ghori said.

Ghori grew up in a predominantly Muslim country and therefore will be celebrating these holidays outside of a Muslim community for the first time this year. This, Ghori believes, will be an opportunity for self-reflection in regards to his religious practice.

“I value my religious community both at home and away because community is an important concept in Islam,” Ghori said. “Being away from home will encourage me to think about what these holidays and religion means to me.”

Ghori has found that the teachings of Islam have been central in his ability to maintain balance between religion and academic success.

“Islam as a religion is not supposed to be a burden on its people and encourages focus on all aspects of life, especially encouraging gaining knowledge,” Ghori said.

Both Schweig and Ghori believe it is the responsibility of professors to enable students to accomplish both their religious and academic goals. Schweig believes it is important for professors to educate themselves on different religious practices in order to better understand the needs of their students.

“I think if all professors are really clear about what exactly Jewish observance entails, they will understand just how limiting having a test or project on the same day as a holiday might be,” Schweig says. “In Judaism there really is no flexibility or leeway.”

Similarly, Ghori believes that professors should be willing to accommodate the needs of religious students.

Singh, on the other hand, feels that it is students who have the power to establish change on a larger scale. He believes that through coming together, different religious organizations can alter the status quo by encouraging professors to be cognizant of their academic schedules.

“I think the student body needs to speak up about their needs,” Singh said. “If there were a way students could come together, they may be able to create accommodations for themselves.”

Written by: MIKI WAYNE — features@theaggie.org