The Delicate Balance of Religion and School Life

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From academics to athletics to extracurricular activities, maintaining a balance of everything going on in the average student’s life can easily become strenuous. For some students across campus, religion is an additional element to consider when finding that balance.

Ranked second in diversity in 2021, UNLV has made a continued effort to improve its understanding of various lifestyles and cultures. Yet, it would still prove to be impossible for the university to create an academic calendar that is accommodating to every student’s cultural or religious practices.

Because of this, many students find themselves needing to put in the extra effort to work around their observances and obligations. Subsequently, the struggle to find time to keep up with everything can prove to be difficult.

According to Pewresearch.org, about a third of U.S. teens claim to be religiously unaffiliated. While those that do identify with a religious practice to different extents, this leaves a wide possibility for a range of U.S. teens to have encountered the experience of finding the time to incorporate other activities secondary to their religious affiliations.

With an abundance of religious organizations on campus such as Chabad, Hillel, the Elohist Bible Study Club, Hope, etc., this is a challenge that certain students have had to face at UNLV.

Some universities with student populations that overwhelmingly practice religious holidays have opted to provide those days off on the school calendar, such as how Brandeis University, which has a large Jewish student population, gives days off for Jewish holidays.

“I think that while it would be very nice to have a similar calendar to schools like Brandeis it would not change a thing,” said Gabriel Hafter, who is involved with JewNLV and serves on the Chabad board. “First it is important to know that even if there is no school because of a holiday that does not mean we, ‘Jewish students,’ are on vacation. We have to ensure that we finish our school work either way before the holiday or we have to rush after the holiday ends to make sure that we finish it.”

Hafter then proposed that a solution would involve an overall increase in accommodation and understanding of various communities, like the Jewish community, to provide assurance that it is possible for students to stay on top of academics without needing to rush in order to catch up on work.

Geula Brownstein, president of the Chabad board at UNLV said, “Overall, I have never had a professor flat out tell me no. The issue that generally arises when it comes to asking for religious accommodations is a lack of understanding of what exactly the holidays are, what our restrictions are, and this can lead to professors saying some pretty harmful things about Jewish people and our holidays.”

Brownstein also concluded that any arising issues ultimately come down to a certain ignorance about what is needed to be accommodating.

Alternatively, some students with less religious representation on campus have also experienced difficulties in meshing campus life with the practices they hold. These difficulties can range anywhere from academics to dietary restrictions. Caspar Dadgar, a UNLV student who was raised Catholic but now practices Buddhism, continues to struggle with finding a group with his beliefs on campus.

“I did look and UNLV has nothing for Buddhists in terms of clubs, so I joined a few religious things that I didn’t stick with. The only Buddhist class that they offer here is abroad and I can’t take it. It is hard to keep my religion in an urban place, specifically with Buddhism. However, it kind of helps me with my schoolwork because it gives me a sense of balance when I feel stressed,” said Dadgar.

Because Dadgar practices Mahayana Buddhism, part of his lifestyle involves being vegetarian. As someone who lives on campus with a meal plan, Dadgar found this can also be difficult for UNLV to accommodate at times.

“I took a brochure from marketing for the meal plans because it said, ‘We’re vegetarian friendly.’ They’re vegetarian-friendly in terms of having a salad, but they’re really not because if I want to eat healthy, it’s hard. I have to buy my own stuff because I don’t get the protein I need,” said Dadgar.

Evidently, the common denominator is that students do have religious priorities, which is something that the university should continue to acknowledge to provide the most welcoming and flexibly accommodating environment.

While the academic policies of courses may differ from each individual professor, it should be the expectation that the professor is willing to work with a student that has a conflicting schedule because of religious or cultural observances.

However, students that are given an excusal should be held to the same standard. For instance, if a professor curves a test given out, then that same curve should be applied to any makeup tests given.

“I think that 98% of the time with my experience what I hear from students is the professor’s been accommodating and accepting helping students observe the holidays, which is a very big blessing and appreciation. Sometimes the student will have to work hard to make it up at night time, but they have always been accommodating, allowing the observance of the holidays,” said Rabbi Tzvi Bronchtain.

Fundamentally, this arrangement between school life and religion does not solely rely on the UNLV administration to work out. At the end of the day, everyone takes responsibility for their own personal life whether that be balancing religion with academics or taking on additional responsibilities.

“One of the joys of living is finding that balance,” said Rabbi Bronchtain. “Every person is different in their set of priorities, but I think it’s very much meaningful when you are able to celebrate your holidays and your traditions [alongside] being involved in your campus community.”

Providing an alternative take on the matter. Rabbi Bronchtain proposed that it gives a certain unique sense of deeper fulfillment when someone is extra stressed or under extra pressure because of having shorter deadlines. He noted that finding that balance fosters a more meaningful campus experience where one is able to keep to their traditions and faith while doing well in school, particularly at a school that for the most part bends over and tries to accommodate religious observance.

For many students on campus, faith is non-negotiable. Whether it be getting homework done on Yom Kippur or taking a test during Ramadan, there are certain components of adversity that students may face during their time at UNLV.

Nonetheless, it can be predicted that students will continue to thrive on campus as long as professors are increasingly educated on the context behind students’ observances, as well as if the university as a whole pursues additional procedures to accommodate the diverse student body that it prides itself on.

1 COMMENT

  1. I am a graduate student at the UNLV School of public health. I appreciate this topic. However, the student that mentioned his meal plan did not provide adequate options for his religious diet needs to be more informed. Furthermore, the point about the UNLV administration accommodating every religious observation is excellent. Especially, the balance that we have to find as students is our biggest challenge as students and we are accountable for it.

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