NC State’s Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity (OIED) works to meet the religious needs of students as long as resources are available, even in the case of bringing weapons on campus, according to J. David Elrod, associate vice provost for equal opportunity and equity.
When there is a religious need to miss class or carry certain items, such as a candle in a residential area, OIED coordinates with different people and departments to find a way to accommodate students, Elrod said.
One example is in the Sikh religion, where one is required to carry a ceremonial dagger called a kirpan as a sign that they are ready to defend themselves or others at any point. Weapons in general are prohibited on campus, but exceptions are made, according to Major David Kelly of campus police.
Arfan Warraich, a first-year in international studies, carries a kirpan and said his process in being allowed to carry one has been overall positive, but he did have to compromise with the university in doing so. He cannot bring it into athletic events due to the strict no-weapons policy and he must wear it under his clothes so that people around him cannot see it.
OIED can be a resource for cases where religious accommodations or absence verifications are not clear or may require additional consideration, according to Elrod.
Campus police allows for Sikh students to bring the kirpan with them, but it cannot be longer than three inches and must be in a sheath where someone cannot easily unsheath it. Campus police must also know if someone is carrying one, according to Kelly.
Additionally, if a student requires a candle for prayers, which are not allowed in student dormitories or in certain rooms on campus, campus housing and RAVE can work with OIED to figure out how to handle that, according to Elrod.
Missing class for religious holidays is an issue for students who observe holidays that campus does not close for, Elrod said. OIED works with students to ensure that their needs are met but also that the holidays are valid.
“Let’s say they have a religious holiday that’s Monday and Tuesday, but they only want to be excused from their Monday 10 a.m. class but not their 9 a.m. or 11 a.m. class,” Elrod said. “That seems odd, so we look into those pieces.”
Students are still accountable for work missed and must seek a religious attendance excuse as soon as they can, according to the class absence verification page from DASA.
Sarah Cohn, campus director of Hillel at NC State, said that most students are able to get out of class on Yom Kippur, which was in October this year. She also said she wishes professors would be aware of students who observe Yom Kippur due to the fasting requirement, as it can be hard to Jewish students to take an exam if they are fasting.
Not all students need to miss class for religious observances. With religions that mandate prayer at certain times, accommodations are usually made with the professor with the help of OIED, according to Elrod.
OIED also has to verify it is a religious rule that requires such accommodations and not a preference. An example of a religious rule would be if a religion prohibited pork products. Something like veganism would be a preference if it is not explicitly a rule in someone’s religion, according to Elrod.
Cohn said Jewish students can have issues with University Dining if they observe kashrut, the rule that requires that all foods be kosher. For this issue, many students will be vegetarian if they have no way to know if something is kosher.
Cohn added that students who observe strict interpretations of the Sabbath or kashrut usually do not go to State or any university that does not specifically cater to their lifestyle. Examples would be the inability to turn on the lights or use a computer on the Sabbath day.
The key is that most individuals are accommodated on a case-by-case basis and overall should not be an overwhelming financial or functional burden for the university, according to Elrod.
Elrod said he will usually connect with other resources to help students if he is not familiar with the religion or not sure how to make appropriate compromises with the students. There are cases where OIED cannot make accommodations, but only after trying to collaborate with others and make compromises.
OIED is currently working on creating a resource page for religious accommodations, but cannot post it yet since they are still conducting research. For now, there is a page in the Diversity Digest newsletter that shows students how to request religious accommodations.