College and university campuses seek to be welcoming and respectful to all their members. Thoughtful and well-designed accommodations policies for diverse communities within the campuses are often the foundation for a welcoming atmosphere that leads to religious pluralism. As the authors of “Leadership Practices for Interfaith Excellence in Higher Education” write, successful interfaith work on campus “rests on both respect for the religious (and nonreligious) identity of all members of the community and reasonable accommodations related to how individuals live out their traditions in daily life.”1 Further, emerging research on entering college students underscores the importance of accommodating and supportive campus environments. For instance, providing accommodations for religious holidays and observances as well as safe spaces for students to express their religious, spiritual, or secular beliefs positively, influences multiple areas of students’ learning and development.2
This curated compilation provides actual examples of accommodations and policies across campus life, from physical spaces, to dining services, to holiday absence policies. Representing the broad swath of American colleges and universities, these examples come from public and private institutions, religiously-affiliated and nonsectarian schools, and small colleges and massive universities. The policies that accommodate, support, and foster religious diversity should be considered throughout an institution’s general culture. This collection tries to highlight accommodations that are not only respectful to a particular religious or campus group, but also promote engagement among differing groups. Neither the individual examples nor the categories are completely comprehensive and we offer this compilation not as an endorsement of any particular example (as you will see, many of the examples are quite different from each other), but as an illustration of what is possible on campus. We hope these examples give you insight into the field and inspire your own campus work around respectful and engaging accommodations for religious and worldview identity.
Please note that all links are to campus websites outside of IA’s website.
- Holiday Absence Policies and Forms (student and staff/faculty)
- Holiday Calendars
- Food and Dining Services
- Housing and Residence Life Accommodations
- Student Group Leadership Policies
- Multifaith Spaces
- Bias Response Policies
- Point Person for Religious Accommodations
- Human Resources Policies Addressing Religion and Worldview
- Proactively Celebrating Religious Holidays
Holiday Absence Policies
Requests for excused absences during religious holidays is a common occurrence on almost all campuses. Having an explicit, clear, and accessible absence policy in place helps students, faculty, and staff members who need time off for religious observances.
Syracuse University provides a helpful explanatory website for their Religious Observances Policy. It begins by stating support for faculty, staff, and students to observe their diverse religious traditions and lays out general guidelines for avoiding scheduling conflicts over religious holidays. It also explains to students how to request absences, while providing thoughtful advice on thinking ahead and considering the impact on course work. Guidance for faculty is provided, as well as a link to a calendar of major holiday observances.
University of North Carolina-Charlotte: As a public university, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte grounds its absence request policy in state law. This policy offers a thorough overview of definitions for critical terms (like ‘reasonable accommodation’) and proper procedures for requesting a religiously-based absence. A “Request for Religious Accommodation Form” is included.
Holiday and holy day calendars provide the whole campus with valuable logistical information regarding important dates to different religious groups. Exemplary calendars are also able to provide insight into not only when a religious or non-religious holiday occurs, but why it matters to individuals and the campus community.
Centre College: A college with roots in the Presbyterian Church, Centre College provides a well-designed panel display of honored religious events and holidays at the institution. With engaging language and informative panels that highlight information and histories of each honored day (including Easter, Jewish High Holy Days, Diwali, Eid al-Fitr, Mormon Pioneer Day, and many others) the page not only supplies logistical information but teaches about why these days are important to students and the College.
The University of Denver: The University of Denver provides a thorough listing of holy days that might impact study or work obligations. The list provides the name of the day, what it commemorates, the religion/worldview it is associated with, and the day it falls on the university calendar.
University of La Verne: The University of La Verne’s calendar does an excellent job of highlighting and explaining significant religious days for a wide variety of religious groups, including Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and pagan worldviews. For many of the holidays listed, links are provided for access to more information.
University of Vermont: The Religious Holiday Calendar for the University of Vermont highlights important religious and worldview holy days throughout the year. Significantly, it also shares a description of each holiday, suggested accommodations for that day(s), and potential work restrictions related to that time.
Food and Dining Services
Values and rules around food preparation and selection are integral parts of many religious traditions and non-religious worldviews. Although campus accommodations can vary in this area, it is critical to think about this issue in regard to the resources you have and the needs of your student body. Options in this area range from longer dining hours for holidays to full integration of kosher and halal meals into campus dining halls.
Boston University: Boston University’s dining services summarizes the kosher and halal food options on campus, and also highlights that Shabbat meals are available on Fridays and Saturdays and that holiday meals are open to all. Accessed through the main BU dining website, this information makes all students, no matter their religious background, aware of these religious accommodations.
Davidson College: After students expressed concerns about cross-contamination in the handling of meat and non-meat food items in the dining hall, Davidson’s chaplain led a training for dining staff on the theological aspects of dietary needs within different religious traditions. Pairing this with their own knowledge of food preparation and commitment to student care, the dining staff developed new daily procedures that recognized student dietary needs and even developed special religious holiday menus for students.
Pennsylvania State University: Pennsylvania State University highlights the kosher station within its dining facilities, provides a process for obtaining a kosher microwave and refrigerator, and provides information about how it labels its halal food options within the main dining options.
University of California-Santa Cruz: Certain holy days or holidays require students to abstain from eating during certain time periods of the day (for instance, while the sun is up). UC-Santa Cruz offers extended Late Night hours with halal options during Ramadan for Muslim students to eat in campus dining halls after their fast ends.