In all these situations, the best way to achieve success is to educate others about different religious practices. Empower students to speak to religious life staff and other faculty and staff who may be unaware of the importance of their religious practices. Coming from a student, this concern and new information will have leverage and show how important having proper accommodations for a plethora of religions at your institution is essential. The goal of this course is to spread awareness and pique a curiosity for further exploration about the plethora of the world’s religions and non-religious worldviews.
If you believe your religion or worldview is the correct one, how can you help students with differing views?
- Learning about or acknowledging another religion does not mean that you need to proscribe the teachings of the religion or nonreligious worldview. Even if you feel that your religion is the only way to a desired end, learning about other religions can help you learn more about your own religion, while making you more accepting of people who practice religion differently.
What if your college/university does not have a worship service for a specific religion?
- If your institution does not have certain worship services, speak to the director of religious life or director of diversity on your campus. If you do not have a director of religious life or director of diversity, bring this opportunity for transformation and education to attention at your next faculty/staff meeting. Be cautious when recommending places of worship for religions you are not fully aware. What may seem like a small difference in denomination may be an essential aspect to the student’s religion. Also, speak with facilities management and investigate whether your school could set aside a room to act as a multipurpose sacred space where people of any religion can use it to worship when they need. This space should be a quiet location and can be reserved by any religious group and should be reserved for things like daily prayers or religious holiday celebrations. See the photo to the right for an example.
What if a student needs transportation to worship?
- If a student needs transportation to worship, see if there is a campus shuttle that is available to take the student. If not, inquire with the director of religious life to see if there is a car pool that goes to the place of worship that the student is interested in worshiping. If not, you could ask different students how they find transportation to their worship services. Also, make students aware of public transportation schedules that may bring students near their preferred place of worship. Lastly, be cautious when recommending places of worship for religions you are not fully aware. What may seem like a small difference in denomination may be an essential aspect to the student’s religion.
What if your college/university does not provide friendly foods for certain religions/religious celebrations?
- If your institution does not provide foods that are friendly for certain religious practices or eating times that are appropriate with certain religious practices, try to connect with the director of religious life or director of diversity to voice your concerns, or try to find other students who practice the same religion to hear how they adapt. Also, this issue would be something that could be brought up at a faculty/staff meeting or brought to the attention of the dining staff at your institution. If you speak with dining staff about specific needs for certain foods or availability of food at certain hours of the day, they may be able to accommodate. Also, be sure to educate dining staff on the reasons for the needed accommodation. Dickinson College has an example of good religious food accommodation.
What if your college/university does not have certain physical accommodations such as foot washing stations?
- Have a dialogue with the director of religious life or the director of diversity to see if their budget will allow the addition of things like a place for daily prayers or foot washing stations. Also, if there is not a religious life or diversity office on your campus, bring this concern up at your next faculty/staff meeting. Reach out to other students of the same religion and inquire how they have adapted on campus or off campus to fulfill their religious practice needs. Facilities management may be another office in which to bring this concern. Facilities could tell you whether adding such physical accommodations would be feasible. Here is a New York Times article about foot washing stations on college campuses and some struggles that some colleges have faced.
What if your students are not used to Christian traditions that have filtered into American culture? (i.e. stores closed on Sundays)
- Explain to students that Christianity is the majority religion in America. Since American citizens are free to express their religion this may confuse some students. Assure students that they have every right to express their religion in any way they feel necessary. While things like certain stores being closed on Sundays because the owners are Christian may seem like an inconvenience, remind the students that we all must accommodate each other’s religion in the way that we see fit to practice.
What if a student does not understand a certain religious holiday?
- Especially if campus closes, or many businesses are closed for a certain holiday that is well known in America, explain what this holiday is to the student. If you are unsure how to explain a certain holiday, connect with the director of religious life or director of diversity in order to give the student a better understanding of the importance of the religious holiday.
What if a student wants to take off for a religious holiday?
- Be sure to tell the student to communicate with their professors about why they are taking off for the holiday. Also, if any professors have issues with students taking off for certain religious holidays, connect the student with the director of religious life or director of diversity in order to make the college fully aware of the impact that the holiday has on the life of the student. If your college does not already have one, propose a campus policy guaranteeing that students may take off to observe a religious holiday with no penalty. This policy could be something such as a mandatory statement that all professors must put in their syllabus acknowledging religious holiday observance.
What if certain gender roles go against college policies?
- If gender roles, because of religious or cultural practice, becomes a point of contention at your college, consider joining forces with the director of religious life or director of diversity to address this issue with someone such as the dean. This problem can breach certain confidentiality policies that your college may have, and it is crucial that you have an open and honest dialogue about how these gender roles must be protected because of their religion. Speak with the individuals who you are concerned about in relation to the gender roles. Explain to them the college policies and see if there is any room for negotiation. Lastly, consider creating a campus policy to help avoid any problems.
What if students want to wear certain attire because of their religious practices?
- Many religions that have certain attire focus on modesty. Most head coverings or other attire worn for religious reasons is for modesty. If someone’s attire is in some way offensive to another student, have a dialogue with both the student wearing the attire and the person who is offended. Try to educate the offended individual on why certain religious practices use attire to focus on modesty. Also, this may be something that should be addressed at a faculty/staff meeting and possibly codified into a college policy for nondiscrimination of people who choose to wear certain religious attire.