Respect Religious Needs

by Jordana Beeber | 11/1/05 6:00am

A few short weeks ago, I was forced to make the most difficult decision of my time at Dartmouth. Upon realizing that two of my exams for a certain course would conflict with the Jewish holidays, I wrote the professor to explain the situation and to request an alternate test date. I was confident that the professor would respond positively -- as had all of my professors during my freshman year. However, this professor did not immediately grant my request, and instead went to his supervisor in order to determine whether or not it was necessary to grant such an accommodation on religious grounds.

While I was surprised at the professor's decision to contest my appeal, I -- along with all of the other students and faculty members whom I consulted -- felt that the entire procedure was somewhat silly, for surely the administration had a policy of accommodation for religious holidays. However, I soon learned that there is no formal policy within the administration, and as such the decision as to whether or not to allow rescheduling of exams is left entirely to the discretion of the professor. With the deadline for course withdrawal looming and no definitive answer from my professor, I was forced to make a choice between my religion and my education. I chose to observe the holidays as my religion prescribes, and to drop the class.

It is high time for the administration to create a comprehensive, written policy concerning conflicts between religious observance and coursework that will be made known to all students and professors. Unfortunately, I know that I am not alone in my struggle to be both a religious person and a conscientious student ("Jewish Students Balance Religion, School Activities," Oct. 13; "Observance without Consequence," Sept. 30). No student should ever again be placed in the extremely awkward and uncomfortable position in which I found myself so recently.

One of the great things about America is that a person's religion does not limit his or her access to or participation in all that this country has to offer. While it may sometimes inconvenience us to allow students the opportunity to retake exams on religious grounds, it seems a small price to pay to maintain Dartmouth College as an institution that values tolerance, acceptance and equal opportunity for all students.

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