Tuesday night, Lafayette College Student Government unanimously passed a resolution in an effort to increase religious inclusivity, and urged the faculty to “amend the College Class Attendance Policy by adding religious practice to the list of regularly excusable reasons for Dean’s Excuses, to ensure that no student be prevented from carrying out the practices of their sincerely held religious faith.”
Gabrielle Tropp ’20, president of Hillel and member of the interfaith council, and Scott Kamen ’21 are the two students leading the charge of this effort, according to Student Government president Connor Burwell ’19. In addition to approaching student government, the two also drafted a letter to be sent to President Alison Byerly Friday morning, and have had conversations with the provost with their concerns.
Tropp said that the letter discusses how the current situation for students requires them to ask to be excused for religious observances, and if their professor says no they either can’t celebrate the holiday or their grade could potentially suffer. She added that they gave a particular example of a time this year when a student was told he couldn’t miss an evening lab and was unable to be a part of pre-fast rituals for Yom Kippur, which is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
The letter also addresses “the uncomfortable position that students are in when they’re forced to tell their professors their religious beliefs (which should never be required). We talk about the fact that this is an issue that inordinately affects minority religions (non-Christian religions),” Tropp wrote in an email.
The resolution also acknowledges how the current calendar aligns “predominantly with the Christian tradition and thus forces many students to choose between practicing their faith at the expense of their schoolwork or foregoing their religious observance to be compliant with school policy.”
While the resolution is urging for religious observances to be added for a possible reason for a Dean’s Excuse, Tropp said that while that would be the ideal result, they are at the least asking for commitment from professors to be understanding.
“We’re asking that at the very least, professors be required to excuse students and provide for this in their syllabi. However, we see the ideal solution being that Dean’s Excuses are granted for any students who needs them to practice their religions,” Tropp wrote.
Currently the class attendance policy does not include religious observance as a listed excuse, however, according to the resolution, institutions similar to Lafayette such as Bowdoin College and Middlebury College do recognize religious observance in their attendance policies.
This is the first resolution Student Government has done this semester. However, Student government president Connor Burwell ’19 said he wanted to emphasize that this resolution isn’t a Student Government project.
“[Tropp and Kamen] are leading this, I want to give all credit to them. We’re just co-signing on,” Burwell said.
Student Government is one of the many student organizations that have rallied behind this effort. The resolution notes that other groups including Hillel, YoungLife, the Newman Catholic Association, the South Asian Student Association, the Muslim Student Association, the Interfaith Council and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life “have all voiced concern about the negative impact this has on students of faith at the College.”
Burwell said that he doesn’t foresee any resistance to the resolution. Tropp agreed, saying that Provost Abu Rivzi was receptive when she spoke with him. However, she added, this is an issue that has been brought up multiple times in the past, and has been turned down each time.
“Our ultimate motivation is that we want everyone of every faith to be able to practice in a meaningful way. We don’t want the burden of work or the stress of explaining the situation to professors or worrying about participation grades to get in the way of students’ fulfillment,” Tropp wrote.
“We think that by making religious holidays a part of the Dean’s Excuses attendance policy, we will be helping Lafayette get closer to making good on its mission statement,” she added.