Muslim student association wants U of Sask. to offer exam deferral during Ramadan
Association president says students are at a disadvantage if they are forced to take test while fasting
The University of Saskatchewan's Muslim Student Association says the university isn't doing enough to accommodate students who observe Ramadan.
The holy month of Ramadan begins this weekend. During Ramadan practising Muslims will fast between sunrise and sunset, among other things.
"We need to give students the option to delay the examination [until] after Ramadan," said association president Abdirahman Ali.
Ali said the university has given students options such as taking a 30-minute break during the three-hour exam, or starting an exam earlier so it's completed before the students breaks their fast, or writing the exam at 9 a.m. CST.
But Ali says Ramadan affects everyone differently.
"Someone might be able to write the examination with a 30-minute break," he said. "Others might be able to write the examination next day. Others will be significantly harmed writing the examination."
Ali said the university doesn't understand the nuances of fasting and that it stems from not consulting with the student association.
The U of S has policies in place to accommodate students based on disability, religion, family status and gender identity.
"So far, 50 accommodations for exams during Ramadan have been arranged," said Jay Wilson, interim vice provost of teaching, learning and student experience.
Wilson said the school looks at each case on an individual basis and in this case is providing revised exam times so students can break their fast and pray.
"We are committed to the process of working with all students who are not satisfied with their accommodation to find a reasonable solution."
Students have been encouraged to apply for accommodation through the university's Access to Equity Services (AES).
But Ali said the AES does not go far enough.
"The university has a long history of excluding the voices of Muslim students in their accommodation and in their policy," Ali said.
He said students have asked senior administration to include the Muslim chaplaincy on campus in discussions regarding proper accommodations for students.
"What they are giving us, for us it's honestly an ultimatum. It's not an accommodation," Ali said.
"It's an ultimatum to either write the examination while you're fasting or fail the examination. And to us that's not an accommodation."
The Canadian Muslim Chaplain Organization is concerned the university is not listening to Muslims on campus.
"The university needs to listen to the students … who they want as to represent themselves, and to be willing to engage that representative meaningfully, not through token ship," said Dr. Joel Schindel, a faculty member of the college of medicine and Muslim chaplain working with the Muslim Student Association.
Wilson said the university has consulted with the Muslim community and with colleagues across Canada to see what they've been doing.
The same situation will occur next year, with final exams and Ramadan coinciding.
Wilson said the university will review its policies and look for ways to improve.
"Because of the timing of Ramadan this year and for next year, I think it's obviously important that we make our students more aware of what we can do to support them."
Schindel said it is not too late for the university to do more for the upcoming exams.
"I mean, you can accommodate people after they've not shown up for an exam. You know, they were sick and you didn't plan for that," he said. "So you can accommodate them afterwards."
Ali said the lack of accommodation can harm students mentally and spiritually.
"And it can really put them at a great disadvantage and make them, you know, not properly succeed in the examination," Ali said.
With files from Saskatoon Morning