Full faith and credit?

When first-year Science and Humanities Scholar Ariel Rosenburg celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a little more than a week ago, she e-mailed her professors two weeks in advance about missing class and making up assignments. She discovered that “not all professors were equal” when dealing with her absences. While some gladly granted her extensions in turning in work, others did not allow her to make up any work afterward.

“The educational environment should not make you feel guilty about practicing your religion,” Rosenburg said. “Professors should not put students in a position where they have to make difficult choices. The university should not necessarily make exceptions, but be accommodating.”

Last summer, the University of Michigan–Dearborn decision to install footbaths in two campus bathrooms to accommodate the university’s large Muslim population was met with controversy. Some activists believed the installations were a violation of the First Amendment, which mandates the separation of church and state. As a private institution, Carnegie Mellon is not subject to the First Amendment in the same way as UMich. However, since the university is officially not affiliated with a particular religion but its population is representative of many diverse religious views, students and faculty have a wide range of opinions regarding the ways in which religion should, and shouldn’t, manifest itself on campus.

Since the university has no official policy regarding religious holidays, professors deal with absences during these times in varying ways.

Religion outside the classroom is another matter.

Of Carnegie Mellon’s 225 recognized student clubs and organizations, 17 are religiously or spiritually oriented, according to Gina Casalegno, director of student activities.
Some non-religious students think this may be too many.

Although first-year Science and Humanities Scholar Kelly Stewart is agnostic, she acknowledged that religious clubs could enrich some students’ college experiences. However, she said she was was “surprised and frankly, appalled that no such clubs existed for atheists, agnostics, or those who question.”

Rosenburg feels that religion is an important part of campus life, but agrees that no student should have to unwillingly support religious organizations.

“I definitely don’t think [religious clubs] should be funded by our student activities fees,” Rosenburg said.

Student Senate, which receives 10 percent of the student activities fee — $75,000 this year — to allocate to student organizations, usually refrains from funding religious groups, according to Jared Itkowitz, Student Senate chair and junior business administration and Chinese studies major.

“In the past, the funding of religious and political events has been contentious insomuch as we would prefer not to fund events that promote a certain ideology or discriminate [against] students with a certain belief,” Itkowitz said. However, there are no official guidelines for spending the activities funds, so requests are dealt with on an individual basis, Itkowitz said.

The Joint Funding Committee (JFC), which allocates nearly $1 million of students’ activities fees among recognized student organizations, has bylaws that prevent it from funding “academic, political, and/or religious” clubs, Casalegno said.

For the first time this year, however, the JFC considered making spiritually oriented groups eligible to receive money to hold secular events.

Om, a spiritual organization for Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs, is the first group to benefit from this new policy. The group received $1642 to spend on events which can provide cultural enrichment and enjoyment for all students.

“[These events are] historically well attended,” Casalegno said.

The two events that will be funded by the JFC this year are Navrathri, a dance through which Hindus celebrate female divinity, and Holi, a northern Indian festival during which participants splatter colored powders on each other to celebrate the coming of spring, according to Gautam Daswani, Om president and senior business administration major.

These events are “representation[s] of India’s culture and heritage” but do not have heavily religious significance, Daswani said.