Today is Good Friday on the Christian calendar, and starts a weekend of religious celebration. That got me thinking about a practical aspect of diversity that has tripped me up over the years – scheduling meetings and events around religious holidays.
Since I am a member of the mainstream culture, I don’t have to worry much about work conflicts with my significant holidays. I’m not likely to have a professional conference on December 25 or a staff development day on Thanksgiving. Part of my role as a leader with responsibility for staff development is to help participants who practice other religions to avoid similar conflicts
For example, early in my career I was part of a team that planned a fall orientation. We were lucky enough to get the best conference room on a Friday in September. Well, I later learned that the room was available because the day fell on a major Jewish holiday and more experienced event planners were avoiding it. Several of our Jewish participants were not able to attend and it created a less welcoming climate for them.
Just a few years ago I helped my daughter host a baby shower. Two of our friends were not eating, and explained that it was Ramadan and they were fasting. I hadn’t considered that, and they didn’t expect us to. But they were pleased when I packed treat boxes so they could enjoy cake and fruit after sundown. That was an easy gesture that helped them be part of the group.
Your diversity and equity office may provide a religious holiday calendar, or there are many online resources such as this one from Williams College. They are a start, but not all holidays are created equal. A complete calendar can make it seems like there’s a holiday every day!
I’ve taken the opportunity to educate myself about which holidays are most important to consider when planning campus events. For example, if I were teaching a course and planned to bring pizza once during the semester, I’d check the dates for Ramadan and avoid bringing food when some students are likely to be fasting.
Respecting other people’s religious holidays is one way I can demonstrate inclusivity in my work. What experiences have you had with scheduling for diversity?
Dee Anne Bonebright