DVC community supports students’ religious freedoms

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DVC community supports students’ religious freedoms

Aryana Hadjimohammadi, Staff member

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Last week, Newin Orante, Vice President of Student Services, reaffirmed in an email to faculty that Diablo Valley College would follow California Education Code 76121 supporting the free expression of students’ religious beliefs. 

The education code is a state law under Article 7: Exercise of Free Expression, which outlines community colleges’ responsibility to change students’ exam dates should they collide with the day of the student’s religious observance.

“This is part of saying this is how we respect one another,” said Kelly Schelin, Associate Chancellor of Educational Services at Contra Costa Community College District. “This is how we behave in an inclusive manner, in an equitable fashion as part of a professional learning community.” 

Religious freedom has always been respected at DVC. While the school continues to promote diversity and inclusivity, Orante’s announcement reminded the community of the importance of religious freedoms and tolerance. 

However, the education code has some limitations as to the enforcement of the law. For example, an instructor can reject a student’s request for religious accommodation if it would impose an unreasonable burden for the instructor or the class.

“The law is written in such a way so as to allow a little bit of wiggle room,” said Schelin, “so that if there are really accentuating circumstances…a judge would have the opportunity to make a judgement call about whether or not that constituted an undue hardship.”

Soroush Arjomandi, a member of the DVC Baha’i Club, appreciated how the education code represents inclusiveness and respects religious expression. 

“The intent of having an education code that promotes freedom of religion is in the same vein as the first amendment with regards to freedom of religion,” said Arjomandi. “If you believe in the First Amendment, you should believe in this code allowing for freedom in practicing holy days.”  

While Arjomandi supports the education code, he doesn’t believe that the Baha’i religion is acknowledged enough at DVC because it is a minority religion. According to the Baha’i world centre, there are more than 5 million Baha’i people in the world.

“I think if (teachers) conducted meetings where they typically talk about, where they have meetings, where they mention holidays…it would be ideal if they also included holidays in (the DVC calendar),” said Arjomandi, noting that it would help if there were conversations about religious holidays between teachers and their students. 

Students have been calling to have a meditation and prayer room at the campuses’ library and discussion has started underway.  

For the past couple years, librarians at DVC have been trying to accommodate students’ needs.

“We kind of informally say (to students) if you want to go into the quiet area back there, then that would be fine with us,” said Amelie Brown, a librarian at DVC. “We were thinking for quite a while about how to implement this.”

Brown said that the concept first sprouted in the summer of 2018, but was discussed in greater detail in the spring of 2019. 

“During the spring semester of 2019, we had more specific discussions about it, how this could be implemented, what might be a good area in the library to do this, and also how (the room) should this be furnished,” said Brown. 

Faculty, staff, administration, and an advisor from a Muslim student club were involved in implementing this project and deciding what materials to use. 

Daniel Kiely, the department of chair of the library, said that everyone who had consulted on this project had planned out what the project will look like. According to him, and it is now up to the college to take the next step.