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New religious accommodation policy supports inclusive environment for university students, faculty and staff

Emory University students may request excused absences from class, rescheduled assignments and other adaptations for their religious observances under the new university-wide religious accommodation policy, which took effect Aug. 1.

“Emory University seeks to create a campus climate that is welcoming and inclusive of religious, philosophical and nonreligious diversity,” the policy states. “Emory’s Equal Opportunity and Discriminatory Harassment Policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, and Emory seeks to provide reasonable accommodation for the sincerely held religious beliefs and practices of employees and students, unless such accommodation would impose an undue hardship (more than a minimal burden on university operations).”

The policy, which is supported by the Emory University Office of Spiritual and Religious Life (OSRL), applies to all university faculty, staff and students. It notes that holidays and forms of observance vary widely both among and within religious traditions.

“Religious observances may include attending services and may also require abstaining from work and certain other activities (such as writing, carrying things outside of the home, or the use of electronics) altogether on religious holidays and at other significant times of the year,” it explains. 

Students and employees should request accommodations as early as possible, the policy states:

  • Students should submit requests in writing to their faculty members, noting their needs and requested accommodations. If that is not effective, they may speak with the chair of the department (or the program director), the academic dean in their school, or with the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC) regarding Emory’s Equal Opportunity and Discriminatory Harassment Policy.
  • Employees should submit requests to their supervisor, department chair or dean. If that is not effective, they should speak with Emory University Human Resources and/or consult with OIEC regarding Emory’s Equal Opportunity and Discriminatory Harassment Policy.

The OSRL and the Ombuds Office are also available to provide support in this process. In addition, diversity, equity and inclusion officers in each Emory school often assist students, faculty and staff in determining and securing reasonable accommodations. 

“We are grateful to the president, provost, the deans of each school and the University Senate for reviewing and approving this policy that arose from student feedback and will help to advance Emory’s efforts to support our growing religious and philosophical diversity,” says Gregory W. McGonigle, dean of religious life and university chaplain, who leads Emory OSRL.

Such policies are customary at Emory’s peer institutions. “What is new about this policy,” says McGonigle, “is that it applies university-wide, it outlines a process for seeking accommodations and it connects accommodations to Emory’s nondiscrimination commitments. It also offers guidance about some common questions that have arisen over time.”


Academic accommodations

Students receiving accommodations for religious observances are still responsible for completing any coursework that they missed, according to the policy. “Reasonable accommodations must be consistent with academic standards and may not include modifications of requirements essential to any program or licensing requirement, or modifications that impose an undue burden on the university,” it notes.

The policy encourages faculty to include a statement about the religious accommodations policy on their course syllabi (a sample statement is provided in the policy) and notes that such accommodations should be considered separately from other excused absences.

“There is no set number for approved religious accommodation absences, and if a student needs to use excused absences for sickness or other emergencies, that should not subtract from possible religious accommodation absences,” the policy states. “This principle, however, does not outweigh the fact that regular attendance in class may be essential for meeting academic standards and licensing requirements.”

“I know that our faculty is dedicated to supporting our students in multiple ways, both inside and outside the classroom,” says Deboleena Roy, senior associate dean of faculty of Emory College of Arts and Sciences. “This includes embracing the rich diversity of our students and providing accommodations so that they may observe religious holidays over the course of the academic year.”


Major religious holidays

Each year in May, the OSRL publishes a list of major religious holidays observed by sizeable religious demographic groups within the Emory community. Faculty and staff are encouraged to consult the list to help avoid conflicting with these dates when planning syllabi, exams, assignment deadlines, required meetings and major programs. 

The OSRL list of select major religious holidays in the 2022-23 academic year can be viewed here. A few highlights:

  • Rosh Hashanah: Eve Sept. 25 through Sept. 27, 2022, after nightfall
  • Yom Kippur: Eve Oct. 4 through Oct. 5, 2022, after nightfall
  • Ramadan: Eve March 22 through day April 21, 2023
  • Passover (first two days): Eve April 5 through April 7, 2023, after nightfall
  • Eid al-Fitr: Eve April 21 through day April 22, 2023

Members of the university community may also request accommodations for holidays that are not on the list, the religious accommodations policy states, and the chaplains in the OSRL are available for consultation and support.

“Our institutional commitment to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion means we bring our whole selves with us when we show up in our respective spaces,” says Carol Henderson, Emory’s chief diversity officer, vice provost for diversity and inclusion and adviser to the president. “This includes creating pathways of belonging that honor our many faiths, spiritual and philosophical beliefs. These intersectional identities make up the beautiful mosaic that is Emory.”

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