Rachel Lubbe / Sun Contributor

Student Assembly members discuss resolutions about veteran representation and Muslim religious holiday accommodation.

March 1, 2018

U.S. and U.S. Allies Veterans to be Represented in Student Assembly, Muslim Religious Holidays May Receive Academic Accommodation

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The Student Assembly unanimously voted to grant veterans a non-voting S.A. position and considered recommending that the University academically accommodate Muslims during religious holidays.

S.A. tabled the resolution recommending religious accommodations, along with four other resolutions, due to lack of time to sufficiently debate them.

The approved veterans resolution grants an ex-officio membership to a liason elected by the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association, in order to give voice to “an underrepresented population on the Cornell campus with a series of unique experiences,” the resolution read.

“Morally, I feel it important that those in the civilian community blindly support those who have protected and served our country,” CUVA president Luke Opyd ’18 wrote in a letter to the S.A.. “This ex officio position will be the first step.”

The S.A. amended the veterans resolution prior to approving it so that the new position will only represent veterans who served either the United States or its allies.

“[International students] with two years of military service also face unique obstacles when they come back to campus after two years outside of civilian life,” said Christopher Schott ’18, S.A. international student liaison at-large and amendment sponsor.

The position will not represent veterans who served in non-U.S. allies because veterans “don’t want to be in a situation where they need to fraternize with somebody they have been in combat with,” Schott told The Sun.

“It would not be healthy to have two Veterans, who have perhaps fought in battle against each other, forced to collaborate on topics that fundamentally challenge either parties’ values, principles, or beliefs,” Opyd wrote in his letter.

While there are 81 military or veteran students in the graduate and professional student community, according to the University, the undergraduate and graduate veterans community is too large to be represented by an unified organization, said Tyler Gilmore ’20, CUVA director of communications.

“Most veterans in the graduate program are officers … Undergraduate veterans are typically enlisted,” Gilmore said. “There’s a big difference between [undergraduate and graduate/professional veteran/military students] not only socio-economically but also experience-wise.”

However, Opyd expressed hope that CUVA will one day become “a place for both undergraduate students and graduate students.”

Gabe Kaufman ’18, S.A. vice president of finance, had opposed the veterans resolution last week, arguing that granting membership to the undergraduate veterans community, which consists of 24 students, may force the S.A. to grant membership to other identity-based communities on campus. He ended up voting in favor of the resolution.

“I’m concerned, but I hope that the Assembly understands that this can’t go on forever,” he said. “I have hope, but I don’t trust them. … Hopefully this placates them.”

After voting to grant veterans a non-voting position, the S.A. considered a resolution accommodating Muslim religious holidays by moving students’ final exam hours to the evening and providing takeout boxes at dining halls, among other things.

“Muslim Holidays often conflicted with course schedules, forcing students to choose between their education and their religious observance,” the resolution said.

“There’s not like any student policy surrounding like, if you have finals and a religious issue comes up. This resolution seeks to rectify that a little bit,” said Omar Din ’19, S.A. human ecology representative.

Khaddy Kebbeh ’19, board member of the Women of Color Coalition and sponsor of the resolution, stressed that the current policies do not provide the same accommodations for non-Christians.

“Having spoken with members of other religious groups, they also feel that [the conflict of religious holidays and academic schedule] is an issue because what they encountered are very different from the Christian group who can get their religious holidays off,” Kebbeh said.

“I think it’s our mission and it’s important for other religious groups to also get accommodated to their religious holidays,” she added.

Olivia Corn ’19, S.A. arts and science representative, expressed support for accomodation for Muslim test takers celebrating Ramadan during finals week.

“I fully support every person who has religious conflicts and needs accommodations for exams. I fully understand that,” Corn said. “Some religious practices can be very very difficult, especially if when a specific month is dedicated to celebration.”