Almost a year ago, Brendon Tran ‘22 emailed Assistant Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences Jude Mitchell about switching his lab time that week to observe the Lunar New Year. Initially, policy left the treatment of non-University holidays in the hands of each professor, and Tran was given approval by one professor to sit in on a different lab section.
Professor Mitchell, on the other hand, rejected Tran’s request. In his email response, he noted that he respected Tran’s “decision to celebrate the holiday, [but it was] not a [U]niversity holiday.” Now, it is to be treated like one.
In a later response to Tran, Professor Mitchell mentioned that the issue would require a University-wide policy change. Off the heels of this situation came an influx of student uproar for administrative response, an SA resolution to expand the list of recognized holidays, and multiple Campus Times articles. Now a verdict has been reached.
In a University email on Jan. 11, Provost David Figlio made an announcement reminding faculty to be aware of cultural and religious events when assigning work, adding the Lunar New Year to the list of religious observances acknowledged by University policy. According to the email, students have the opportunity to make up work missed for the celebration of the Lunar New Year.
No longer will observing students be forced to either run the risk of missing a crucial lecture or lab — or dutifully attend class and miss out on their most significant cultural festivity of the year. The choice still rests on students, but the standardized push for professors to make accommodations now adds the Lunar New Year to the list of religious holidays UR has acknowledged for decades. This would not have happened without student pressure to form these committees, to make these changes to policy, and to prioritize this issue over the multitudes that University administration has to oversee.
It will be a while before the Lunar New Year is up to par with major religious holidays like Yom Kippur and Eid al-Fitr, though, where students don’t have to negotiate for accommodations since UR policy doesn’t allow work to be assigned. For some students, the current change may not be nearly enough. Choosing the option to make up work can still be stressful — after all, we’d take a bet that there’s a solid group out there who’d rather skip out on festivities over making up a three-hour physics lab (academic FOMO, anyone?).
There’s admittedly still a long way to go — it’s hard to imagine dragon dances and red envelopes becoming as commonplace as Christmas trees and stocking stuffers any time soon. But until Lunar New Year policy reaches state — or potentially national — scale, getting it recognized by administration is a minimal win for UR students.
At one point, Tran mentioned his frustration with the University’s lack of care or attention towards his dilemma. “Westerners get basically a week off for New Year’s,” he told CT in an interview. “Normally, Lunar New Year’s is a fifteen-day celebration. I’m not asking for fifteen days. I’m asking for one.” The present action taken by the University is consequential — it shows flexibility for changes in policy, especially those backed fervently by the student body.
Including the Lunar New Year on the list of the University’s recognized religious holidays is an important step in making a Christianity-dominated institution more inclusive to its diverse population. It is small actions that lead to major change. Because Brendon Tran utilized his voice, this University took action. And this action may lay the foundation for further action.
As a student, you have more power than you may think. We have a full directory of students and faculty’s email addresses at your disposal. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort to push towards change, precedent shows that your advocations can become reality. We may not get adequate academic consideration for all non-Christian holidays yet, but we may in the future. Brendon Tran may be the catalyst for change.Reaching out to the Campus Times is a great pathway to voice your opinions to a larger audience or educate others on important events, so please feel free to reach out to us. Whether you want to write an Opinions piece, a Letter to the Editor, or just inform us about an event or issue, your voice is integral to making this paper as efficient at delivering important information as possible. Your voice deserves to be heard.