A week ago today DePauw was getting ready for one of the biggest events of the year, Old Gold, an event which crowns kings, queens, dukes, duchesses and the rest of the royal family.
Coinciding with all of DePauw’s sports teams playing at home and the major alumni event, which raised over 2 million dollars, the weekend was closed with a speech by New York Times columnist David Brooks.
These celebrations took place alongside celebrations of a different kind, however, the religious holidays of Yom Kippur and Eid al Adah.
Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adah are two major religious holidays for Judaism and Islam respectively.
Yom Kippur is the most important day of the year in Judaism and is honored with a 24-hour fast and prayer, spending the day in the synagogue.
Eid al-Adah is one of the most important Islamic holidays, aside from Ramadan, and is honored with prayers and a large celebration with family and friends.
With Old Gold being scheduled on these holidays it was difficult for Islamic and especially Jewish students to take part in the festivities.
“I know I will not be able to participate,” said Jacob Strauss, a first-year and practicing Jew, when asked about attending Old Gold festivities. “I’m disappointed, wondering why they wouldn’t look at a calendar?”
In the week before Old Gold, President Casey sent out an email acknowledging the scheduling blunder and stated the university will ensure that "in the future we properly honor and respect these holidays for many in our community.”
But for some this was not enough.
“There is a different excuse every year for why events are on this weekend,” said Melanie Studnicka, a Jewish senior. “They are aware of the dates, it is by choice that it doesn’t matter.”
Alex Alfonso, a senior Jewish student agreed.
“Even if you aren’t as observant of a Jewish person, Yom Kippur is the one that you go to.”
According to the coordinator of spiritual life, Adam Cohen, there are an estimated 80 to 90 non-Christian/secular students on campus. Jewish students are the largest religious minority on campus with an estimated 25 to 30 and then Muslim students with an estimated 15 to 25.
There are no local options for either of these religious groups. The university has never contacted the center for Spiritual life in the planning of school wide events.
“The closest mosque is in Plainfield, which is 45 minutes away,” said junior ad Muslim Students Association Vice President Muhammad Haroon.
Muslim students are provided a place for prayer in the Hartman House but Haroon says that it is possible for the university to do more. Muslims pray five times a day and on Fridays they congregate at local mosques for prayer services.
Haroon notes that the university has not provided Muslim students with transportation to the local mosques for Friday prayer
“Transportation would be great,” said Haroon. “But right now we are provided a room and students have to lead the prayer themselves.”
The Hartman House does provide prayer rooms and is a good resource for religious students. There are also organizations on campus such as Hillel for Jewish students and the MSA for Islamic students, but many believe that more could be done outside of spiritual life to help make these students more comfortable and included in school activities.
“I think it puts some of our students in a tough situation,” said Lance daSilva, Jewish life coordinator at the Center for Spiritual life. “A student should not have to choose between attending a major university event and celebrating the holiest day in the Jewish year.”
Students feel that they miss out on opportunities because the school is not taking their religious needs into account.
“Scheduling all of these big events on a weekend that is very important to the Jewish and Muslim students seems kind of careless,” Alfonso said. “This was a time where both big holidays for both Judaism and Islam fell on the same day, and both get acknowledged almost after the event. In a sense it is a lack of respect.”
Old Gold is not the first time this year that a major event was scheduled over a religious holiday. The career fair put on by the Hubbard Center last month was over Rosh Hashanah, meaning that Jewish juniors and seniors could not attend the event because they were in temple.
“I understand exceptions, but systematically this has happened every single year,” said Studnicka. “I don’t expect anything from my university at this point.”
President Casey mentioned that these kinds of mix-ups were going to be handled by the Diversity and Equity Committee. Vince Greer, who is an administrative member on the committee and the director of Multicultural Student Services says that race, gender, religion and orientation are all major priorities of the DEC and says that this year is a “year of learning” where the DEC plans to acknowledge these holidays more and are working on being “more transparent” about religious holidays.
Greer says that the goal for the coming years at DePauw should be diversity across the board, not just focusing on racial and ethnic diversity but more emphasis on religious and socio economic.
It is true that in recent discussions of diversity on campus, religious diversity has not been included.
“Religious diversity needs to become apart of the conversation at this point,” Studnicka said. “It’s not even a priority.”
So how will DePauw be able to bring religious diversity into the forefront and start this conversation? Many say education.
“More education and more conversations about faith," said Haroon. "This would make students feel more comfortable.”
Others think that more should be done to make these holidays, and the people who celebrate them, to be more recognized, respected and given proper acknowledgement by the university as a whole.
“From an institution like DePauw, you would expect a little more awareness,” Alfonso said.
The bottom line is that these discussions need to start happening. It is not fair to these students and faculty that there religion and life styles are not given the respect that they deserve.
“If you want to promote tolerance, you need to interact with people from different religions,” Haroon said.
He suggests conversations, education and the drive for more religious diversity at DePauw.