As Muslim students began fasting this spring for the holy month of Ramadan, colleges introduced programs focused on their inclusion, NPR reports. This year, Ramadan spans April 1 to May 1, an academically demanding time of the year. For Muslim students during this time, their days consist not only of preparing for finals but also of adhering to the holiday’s spiritual traditions: prayer, meditation, reflection, and fasting. Fasting begins at sunrise and ends at sunset, when dining options become limited on campus, particularly for students on meal plans.
Last year was the first time in more than a decade that Ramadan fell within the academic calendar, but with the pandemic’s many disruptions, 2022 is really the first time in years that many students will be observing the holiday on campus. In response, U.S. colleges and universities are introducing new initiatives to build a sense of belonging for Muslim students on campus.
Building a Ramadan-friendly campus
At historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Muslim-inclusive programs have long been part of campus life, and Muslim students at those institutions “tend to feel better supported and more engaged than their counterparts at predominately white institutions,” Darnell Cole of University of Southern California’s (USC) Center for Education, Identity and Social Justice tells NPR. However, a growing number of predominantly white institutions are working to provide more Ramadan-friendly meal options, schedules, and programs.
Some universities, like Loyola University of Chicago, offer food packages for students to eat after their daily fast, thanks to a partnership between its campus food provider and residence halls. USC and Emerson College recently began supplying new to-go boxes for suhoor, or morning meals before fasting starts. Utah State University serves halal meals twice a week, and Northeastern University shuttles students from campus to the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the largest mosque in New England, for evening prayers.
Growing focus on inclusion
Many of these changes stem, in part, from coversations happening both nationally and on campus around race after George Floyd’s murder. The dialogue around ethnic and religious identity prompted by Muslim and refugee travel bans during the Trump presidency further intensified the push to ensure students’ sense of belonging, NPR says.
Muslim student associations on campuses have advocated for additional inclusion efforts, and Greek life at some schools has expanded to include a Muslim sorrority and fraternity. Shafiqa Ahmadi at USC’s Center for Education, Identity, and Social Justice studies says Muslim women on campus who wear headscarves—“a symbol that automatically identifies them as Muslim” and often met with “bias and hate”—are further increasing visibility and creating spaces of belonging for themselves and others.