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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Some UC Davis students say college life isn’t always Ramadan-friendly 

UC Davis students discuss challenges balancing observing Ramadan while away from home, attending Picnic Day and living on campus

 

By UMAIMA EJAZ — features@theaggie.org

 

As UC Davis celebrated its beloved Picnic Day in person for the first time in three years on April 27, some Muslim students felt like they were not as welcome as others at the event. 

Parwana Mehr, a third-year psychology major, returned home on Picnic Day early. She was among the many Muslim students whose Ramadan fasts coincided with the event. 

Mehr, along with her friends, had woken up early to join in on Picnic Day festivities, but said that there weren’t many options for her. 

“The lines for any of the things were easily over 100 people,” Mehr said. “We were all fasting, and it just didn’t seem like it would be a healthy thing to be under the sun like that … I couldn’t check [out] the foster cats and the dog races merely because of the lines and heat. And obviously, I couldn’t eat or drink anything from the food truck.”

Mehr is also the social media manager for the UC Davis Afghan Student Association. She said she tried advocating for a push for this Picnic Day to be more Ramadan-friendly, but because it had been planned a year in advance, she found that there wasn’t much she could do. 

“It was Ramadan this month,” Mehr said. “But next year, it could be something for another religion. They should definitely have more representation when making decisions like this.”

Shukla Ahmad, a second-year biochemistry and molecular biology major, was also among the students who were disappointed because they couldn’t enjoy the Picnic Day to the fullest. 

“All my friends were drinking cold water and eating ice cream,” Ahmad said. “But, I couldn’t. After I went back home, the first thing I checked was whether Picnic Day next year would be during Ramadan or not.”

The Aggie reached out to the organizers of the Picnic Day for comment. 

“Traditionally, Picnic Day has been held during the month of April,” UC Davis News and Media Relations representative Julia Ann Easley said via email. “We are always looking for ways to make the experience more inclusive for our students. We will work with the Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian (MENASA) Student Resources unit and Picnic Day organizers to consult with students and understand how we can meet the needs of students who are observing Ramadan.” 

Ahmad said that she’s found that some other aspects of college life aren’t Ramadan-friendly either. Ahmad, who lives on campus, was excited to find out that the dining commons would be providing additional breakfast items that students were allowed to take with them for later consumption for suhoor, the meal with which one closes their fast before the sunrise, but to her surprise, it didn’t seem to be very much food. 

“I went and tried it on the first day for suhoor,” Ahmad said. ”It was just dates and yogurt that day. I just went back home, and now I don’t go to the dining commons I just cook for myself at home.”

Harris Razaqi, a fourth-year economics major and ASUCD senator, said he has tried to push for more halal food options at The Pantry on campus and ways to accommodate students who are fasting. 

Razaqi chose not to fast on Picnic Day this year, both because of his workload and because it happened to be both the first and last Picnic Day that will occur within his time as a UC Davis student, but said that more options should be available for students who do choose to fast. He said that the CoHo and other dining options with limited operating hours put strain on Muslim students, leading many of them to make a choice between their religious obligations and their academic ones. 

The Aggie also reached out to the Student Housing and Dining Services for comment. 

“[The MSA] requested a meeting in my office to go over the needs of Muslim students,” Branden M. Petitt, the director of Student Housing and Dining Services said via email.

“Out of those conversations, we have expanded to a more extensive Halal food menu and better accommodations during Ramadan. They were very pleased with the outcome and we’ve continued since.” 

The Muslim Student Association UC Davis (MSAUCD) has made efforts to support students fasting during Ramadan who feel that the school has not done enough to support them. MSAUCD has arranged community meals for iftar and suhoor, the meal one has before the sun rises and the fast begins, but also distribute their own packed meals for iftar, providing more options in addition to what the dining commons offered. 

Naziba Awrin, a second-year economics major and an international student from Bangladesh, expressed gratitude for the efforts made by MSAUCD.

“Ramadan and school schedule being hand-in-hand is tiring,” Awrin said. “But such community iftars, or just having people together celebrating this holy month while you’re away from home feels good. But I wish there were more of these.”

According to Awrin, for students trying to find a balance between Ramadan and college life, this likely isn’t the first time the issues of inclusivity and representation have suddenly become especially relevant. 

Parwana Mehr might’ve not enjoyed much of her Picnic Day but is advocating for change for others and argues that just a week could have made a difference.

“This could’ve been next week, and Muslim students would have enjoyed it like others,” Mehr said.

 

Written by: Umaima Ejaz — features@theaggie.org

 

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