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While most would agree that Boulder’s campus is, in general, geared towards acceptance and broadmindedness, one student says her faith has been attacked, dissected and ridiculed as she sought identity in her devotion.
Although academia might lend itself to acceptance, even if it is through debate, Irene Skupsky, a 19-year-old sophomore international affairs major, said she has had some difficulty getting permission to miss class in order to observe her religious holidays.
Religious intolerance can come in many forms. Rabbi Yisroel Wilhelm, a 32-year-old director of the Chabad at CU, said his definition of intolerance is largely based in ignorance.
“Intolerance would mean in my view that you’re not allowing or you don’t respect somebody else’s religious beliefs and look down at them even in the slightest way for a specific religious belief that they have,” Wilhelm said.
CU spokesperson Bronson Hilliard said the university fully supports religious diversity and religious observances on the part of the faculty, staff and students.
“The university supports religious diversity just like it supports racial, ethnic and gender diversity,” Hilliard said. “But religion sometimes is also a subject that is debated and the difference is that sometimes those debates and discussions get polarized and people can walk away feeling their religion has been attacked. It’s a complicated relationship between religion and academia because religion is a heartfelt thing but it’s also subject to academic debate.”
Skupsky said she considers herself a more modern Orthodox Jew, and accordingly practices all Jewish holidays. A professor she had last semester scheduled a test on one of the holiest Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur, or the day of atoning for one’s sins, and wouldn’t let her or other Jews in her class reschedule.
“He always has the test on Monday nights, and that’s a fast day, a very serious day, and most Jews who really aren’t religious, this is one out of the whole year that they observe,” Skupsky said. “Basically [my professor] was like, either you take it at 6:30 that night or you get a zero.”
After getting a Jewish adviser involved, Skupsky said, her professor gave her the option of making the final be worth 75 percent. But the time of her final ended up being on a Saturday, and as Skupsky keeps the Shabbat, which entails she abstain from work and electronics on Saturdays, she needed to ask for another faith-based concession.
“He yelled at me and told me to get out without giving me another option,” Skupsky said. “It was just one of those things that I felt really, really sad and frustrated about. But I don’t have to ask a professor 10 times [to reschedule]. I’m sorry my religion is so important to me. It was like pulling teeth.”
According to CU’s policy on observance of religious holidays, “teaching faculty shall make every effort to accommodate all students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments, or other required attendance, provided they notify (faculty) well in advance of the scheduled conflict.”
Even if Boulder can’t set the perfect example of an accepting community, Chelsea Bear, a 22-year-old senior ecology and evolutionary biology and sociology major, said engaging in discussion is the best way of circumventing disagreements.
Bear, who is president of the student board at Hillel, said the director of the Hillel on campus organized a dinner discussion between Jewish and Muslim student leaders on the misconceptions portrayed about their religions.
“Organized student groups like MSA and the Hillel were just talking about the similarities and differences between Judaism and Islam and how American Jews and American Muslims can interact differently,” Bear said. “We don’t want to fall in the trap of getting mad at someone who has family in Syria and how we have family in Israel.”
Wilhelm said dialogue is crucial when promoting tolerance and that while Boulder is very tolerant of everybody, a lot of religious intolerance is due to ignorance.
“Once I’ve had a discussion and explained things and had an open-minded discussion, then generally those people are very accepting,” Wilhelm said. “Hate is not a big thing in Boulder. It’s not intolerance. It’s more ignorance than anything else.”
Skupsky said part of the reason she developed much deeper religious beliefs when she got to college is the scrutiny she faced from others in being able to openly practice her religion.
“I was tested so much, that’s when I firmly created and molded my beliefs because I was so tested,” Skupsky said. “It made me try harder.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sheila V Kumar at Sheila.email@example.com.