Religious Accommodations and Policies on Campus (Examples)
Get some inspiration on how your policies can be faith-friendly.
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.
Housing and Residence Life Accommodations
Hampshire College: The intentional housing communities at Hampshire are intended for a diverse range of students to come together and live and learn around a specific interest. One of the housing offerings is the Kosher living space. This housing unit is organized by kosher principles but is explicitly open to all, regardless of religious affiliation.
University of California-Berkeley: To welcome and support their diverse student body, UC-Berkeley’s Housing Office lists several housing options available for students that need them, including single-gender floors, housing locations with proximity to places of worship, and semi-private bathrooms. All of these can be requested based upon a student’s religious or cultural beliefs.
University of California-Merced: This policy document from the University of California-Merced offers Housing department guidelines for when conflicts arise between major religious observances and residence hall move-in dates.
Student Group Leadership Policies
Many campuses have recently wrestled with how to design policies that balance their commitment to nondiscrimination with acknowledging the need for student religious groups to choose leaders in accord with their values and beliefs. There is no one right policy for this question, but these examples offer a range of approaches for the differing considerations of public and private universities.
Middlebury College: Within their Student Organization Policies (under Section 2), Middlebury College discusses its balance of nondiscrimination based on certain characteristics, with the need for some religious student groups to elect leaders that match their beliefs. Student organizations may require leadership candidates to meet certain prerequisites and be previously affiliated with the nominating group, if those qualifications are consistent with the university nondiscrimination policy. Student group constitutions may also state what ideals or values they wish their leaders to uphold.
The University of Texas-Austin: The student group registration section of the University of Texas’s student handbook specifies that student organizations created primarily for religious purposes may require their student leaders to subscribe to a statement of faith.
As these examples showcase, multifaith spaces exist in a variety of forms while serving a multitude of needs. Simple spaces for prayer or reflection can be designed by a small group of stakeholders and placed either centrally on campus or in a few strategic locations across a large campus. Larger, more complex centers bring together social, educational, and administrative programs and activities under one roof and heighten the public profile of interfaith efforts.
Allegheny College: The Prayer and Meditation Retreat is a converted two-story house that serves the Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim communities on Allegheny’s campus. The first floor has common spaces for both formal group meetings and informal gatherings (along with a full kitchen for meals). The second story has quiet rooms for each group’s religious practice and prayers.
The Claremont Colleges: Has a website that showcases spaces at the Claremont Colleges dedicated to religious and spiritual needs. It highlights (and includes photos of) their Prayer and Meditation Chapel, Lounge, and Kosher Kitchen, among other spaces. It also includes an explanation of their space usage policy and gives context to which spaces can be used for more solitary contemplation and which are better for social and group gatherings.
Elon University: The Numen Lumen Pavilion at Elon University is one of the premier collegiate multifaith spaces in the country. Containing academic centers dedicated to religion and culture, prayer and meditative spaces for students, and social areas for engagement, the Pavilion serves as a gathering space for a diverse set of students, staff, and faculty on campus.
North Carolina State University: Through a collaboration of the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, the Engineering Department, and the university libraries, NC State University offers multiple interfaith prayer sites across its sprawling campus. Locations include the student union, an engineering building, and the main university library; these buildings are convenient for almost all students no matter where they spend their time on campus. The website also includes a user survey for users to provide suggestions about the space.
Saint Louis University: Saint Louis University has two interfaith spaces on campus. The rooms are clearly labeled as “open to students, faculty, and staff of any faith tradition or none” and contain suggestions for how to utilize the room and who to contact about reserving the space.
Suffolk University Boston: The Interfaith Center at Suffolk University in Boston contains the office for the University Chaplain and serves as the center of religious and worldview celebrations like Easter, Passover, and Kwanzaa. The site contains an excellent video showcasing the details of their space.
Bias Response Policies
A concept familiar to many campuses, bias response procedures establish an official notification system for discriminatory actions or abuses on campus. Many campuses clearly highlight religious discrimination in their policies and/or include notifications to religious, spiritual life, or interfaith professionals or organizations.
Point Person for Religious Accommodations
To encourage consistency, enforcement, and development of accommodating policies, many campuses will have an official point-person for these set of procedures.
The University of Texas-Austin: This “procedure and practice” guide for the University of Texas offers a complete compilation of the campus contacts, policies, terms, and procedures for religious accommodations.
Human Resources Policies Addressing Religion and Worldview
University of Buffalo: A public university, the University of Buffalo’s HR policy discusses employee (and student) accommodations within the context of providing a welcoming environment for all religious or nonreligious belief. It contains information on the free expression of belief for employees, relevant federal law in this area, the applicability of the policy to different campus units, and the broad responsibilities of senior administrators, directors of Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion, faculty members, and employees.
Gettysburg College: Gettysburg’s Religious Observance Policy is administered by the Human Resources and applies to faculty members, staff, and administrators. It highlights general guidelines for all campus community members and links to the campus Religious and Spiritual Life calendar.
Proactively Celebrating Religious Holidays
The proactive recognition and/or celebration of religious holidays or holy days gives an institution the chance to recognize the value of different groups on campus and allows them to design programs or activities that are inclusive to all members of the campus community.
Mount Holyoke College: The “Blessing and Sending” event occurs at the end of each academic year for graduating seniors. The interfaith program, organized by the Office of Religious & Spiritual Life, includes blessings from many different religious groups and honors the diversity of each graduating class.
The University of Redlands: The University of Redlands holds an annual Diwali (a Hindu holiday) Dinner and Eid (a Muslim holiday) Dinner. During these events, they highlight the history, religious and cultural meaning, and important rituals tied to each celebration.
1 Patel, E., Bringman, K.B., & Silverman, N. (2015). Leadership practices for interfaith excellence in higher education. Liberal Education. 101. https://www.aacu.org/liberaleducation/2015/winter-spring/patel.
2 Rockenbach, A.N., Mayhew, M.J., Correia-Harker, B.P., Dahl, L., Morin, S., & Associates. (2017). Navigating pluralism: How students approach religious difference and interfaith engagement in their first year of college. Chicago, IL: Interfaith Youth Core.