By Carli Fine
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Earlier this week, this university postponed the date of the First Look Fair, the university-wide activities exhibition run by the Stamp Student Union, in preparation for the potential effects of Hurricane Florence. The event was moved from Wednesday, Sept. 12 and Thursday, Sept. 13 to Wednesday and Thursday the following week. However, Wednesday, Sept. 19 marks the most important Jewish holiday of the entire year, the holiday of Yom Kippur, on which many students will be fasting all day or in religious services praying—in an excused absence from attending courses.
After facing significant backlash from the student body, Stamp once again updated their event to a one-day, 8-hour event on Thursday, Sept. 20.
Although I am relieved by the new date change for the First Look Fair, I am concerned about the degree to which it reflects the strength of held values from the student union that boasts a commitment to multiculturalism. If Stamp truly seeks to “infuse multiculturalism into all of its relationships, policies, social and educational programs, services, advocacy, and research,” as it says on their website, then it should be more aware of the multicultural events that affect the student body.
According to the Maryland Hillel website, this university has about 6,500 Jewish students. The initial decision to put the First Look Fair on the same day as the most fundamental holiday in the Jewish religion displays an offensive level of ignorance on behalf of all organizing members who allowed the decision to go through. Besides the level of disrespect it conveys, it is ideologically unfair and perpetuates the exclusionary oversight of consideration for minority groups.
Stamp announced the calendar change on the other most important Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, during which many Jewish students and the Jewish leadership on campus were in religious services or refraining from the use of technology, delaying their ability to respond to the declaration.
Stamp made a mistake. In their unconscious failure to check a calendar before making the rescheduling decision, they subsequently failed to serve the diverse student population. Yom Kippur is comparable to Easter or Christmas in its significance, and I seriously doubt that our secular university would have ever accidentally tried to host a university-wide event on those religious holidays.
In order for the situation to truly be resolved, it should be made clear that this can never happen again. We need to institute policies on campus to ensure that this date is marked as off-limits on calendars for all departments, as it already is on syllabi development protocols. If professors cannot schedule exams or major assignment due dates on significant religious holidays, then Stamp should have a written policy barring the scheduling of major university-sponsored events during them as well.
If the organizing body did indeed consult a calendar but did not understand the gravity of the holiday that they saw on it, then we should institute mandatory diversity training for those in campus leadership positions. As a friend recently articulated, all too often are Jewish holidays (or other minority considerations) overlooked and ignored because society refuses to acknowledge or understand them.
Some have suggested that First Look Fair organizers should have asked for advice from a diverse committee of students before publicizing their initial decision. Sure, I believe that Jewish people and other minority populations need better representation in society.
But what I want even more than a seat at the table is consideration from those who are already there. I want to believe that when I’m not physically present or available to advocate for myself (such as when a time-sensitive decision must be made on Rosh Hashanah) that the decision-makers will still have my best interests in mind.
We are extremely fortunate that this university is willing to be receptive to student feedback and is able to develop novel solutions to remedy their mistakes. It is grievously common for administrative groups to underestimate the power of their decisions, particularly in the absence of discriminatory motives or intentional ill will. Unfortunately, although ignorance does not typically arise from malicious intent, this does not mean that it is any less harmful to the groups that must face the consequences.
Carli is a junior psychology major. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.