Celebrating minority holidays feels like playing hooky

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By Sanaa Khan, Columnist

Two weeks ago, I spent my Saturday at a required I-program on the topic of inclusion. While there, we discussed various topics such as our subconscious privileges.

It was an eye-opening experience that left many, including myself, feeling grateful for the advantages we take for granted on a day-to-day basis, whether they be financial, physical or even circumstantial.

One of the specific privileges mentioned was not being expected to go to school or work on mainstream religious holidays.

This felt ironic because just two days later was Eid Al-Adha, a holiday observed by Muslims around the world, starting on September 12. It fell on a Monday this year, and with that came the choice of going to class or celebrating Eid.

The choice between going to school or celebrating a religious holiday is one many students probably don’t need to think about. But for those part of any minority religion, it’s a choice that comes every year.

It means emailing professors, TAs and bosses to get your absence excused. It also means arranging make-up labs, asking classmates for missed notes and having to deal with those missed I-clicker questions. Worst of all, it means feeling like celebrating a holiday is really like playing hooky.

Missing school means more work, especially if there’s an upcoming exam, so some students ultimately choose school over celebrating the holiday and skip the festivities altogether. This is especially true for students who, often times mixed with parental and cultural influences, make school and classes their first priorities.

During my freshman year, feeling naively overwhelmed with the prospect of missing class in college, where a parent calling the secretary’s office for an excused absence no longer applied, I foolishly ended up “skipping” Eid, going to class and doing my homework. It was depressing.

This year, my pros and cons list for missing Eid versus going to class was properly adjusted, with the pro of spending time celebrating the holiday with friends outweighing everything else. We may not get to have a week prior and two weeks after to fully prepare and then recover from a holiday season spent shopping, eating and visiting family. But we can still make the most of our day on campus instead of home, with friends instead of family.

University administrators should work with minority religious groups to make it easier for students to enjoy their religious holidays in addition to the current “religious absence excuse” letter. For example, a pass could be provided so that students have a few extra days to turn in an assignment rather than on the given day or following morning.

For now, it’s up to each student to make the most out of their holiday in an environment that may not always make it easy to do so. Sometimes the situation may be out of their hands, whether it’s a make-or-break group presentation that takes place on the same day, or uber-important executive meetings at work post-graduation.

It’s difficult, and even awkward at times, to be the one to ask for an excused absence for a holiday people haven’t heard of or can’t pronounce. But everyone has the legal right to have the morning, the day or even better a few days off, so take advantage of it by asking.

If more of us feel comfortable asking for an absence, whether it’s for celebrating Eid, Diwali or Yom Kippur, then maybe next time we won’t have to ask, inform or explain, since the professor, supervisor or classmate will already know.

Sanaa is a sophomore in Business.

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