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Academic calendar changes raise concerns about Yom Kippur, Thanksgiving

The current Fall Term schedule started on a Wednesday—rather than the typical Monday—in a move intended to help first-year Jewish students avoid travel on Rosh Hashanah for New Student Week (NSW). However, according to Jewish students, the change has led to greater challenges, with Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday regarded to be the “holiest day of the year”, falling on the first Thursday of the term. Additionally, the final exam period was pushed back to end the day before Thanksgiving, complicating winter break travel plans.

The current academic calendar was approved in 2017 at a College Council meeting that determined the academic calendars for 2020 through 2026. Public meeting minutes indicate that the Council was especially concerned about the 2021 academic calendar. 

“There are a few dates that are potentially problematic, such as exams ending the day before Thanksgiving in the fall of 2021,” states the minutes. “This is due to New Student Week being pushed back, as it coincided with Rosh Hashanah.” Yom Kippur was not mentioned.

According to a Jewish Students of Carleton (JSC) board member, referred to as “Student A” for anonymity, Rabbi Shoshana Dworsky and former College Chaplain Carolyn Fure-Slocum first brought the issue of Yom Kippur to the administration in 2019, in an effort to change the schedule. The College Council minutes stated that “the Council can revisit the calendar if something comes up that the College should consider.” However, these efforts to shift the schedule were unsuccessful. 

According to both Student A and the JSC Board, a scheduling conflict with Yom Kippur is a bigger problem than having one with Rosh Hashanah.

Three freshmen indicated that Yom Kippur coinciding with the first day of Tuesday/Thursday classes posed the main challenge.

According to these students, had it been the second class session, it would have made a difference.

 Student A added that they believe that this scheduling conflict with the first day of classes was a more significant issue than a conflict with New Student Week. However, following the  unsuccessful effort to change the first day of classes, the JSC began their efforts to help Jewish students deal with this issue last spring. Since avoiding the conflict with Yom Kippur was not possible, they wrote a resolution to make missing classes easier for Jewish students, which was passed by the Carleton Student Association (CSA). The CSA then wrote a letter to faculty and administration in an effort to help.

The JSC Yom Kippur Resolution included a variety of measures to ensure that Jewish students would not miss important material by missing class. Notably, it stated “that all classes and labs will be recorded and those recordings published online no later than one day after class.”

However, multiple students who missed class stated that their classes were not recorded. An anonymous freshman shared that they chose to miss their class for Yom Kippur, and it was not recorded. They said that it “felt weird” that, to their knowledge, they were the only person missing that class. When their professor wanted to have a Zoom call later that day, at a time still conflicting with Yom Kippur, it “almost just made [them] want to go in person,” and that overall, “missing the first day… put [them] in a weird place.” 

Adam Rothman ’25, who chose to attend classes, said his decision was made in part because he was able to attend his synagogue’s Kol Nidrei services virtually. Kol Nidrei is a service at the beginning of Yom Kippur involving the Kol Nidre, a prayer “seen as one of the most important prayers of the year.” He said the choice of whether to attend classes was “a really tough decision… but [that] it worked out in the end,” noting that not wanting to miss important information played a role. 

According to Rothman, “if [Yom Kippur] was the third day of classes, that probably would’ve made a difference.”

Another anonymous student emailed their professor about missing classes, and was told that they should contact the Office of Accessibility Resources to be exempt for that day. 

An anonymous freshman, Student B, said that their professors were quite accommodating, sharing that they received an extension from one professor and had class cancelled by another.

“Professors were very good about [missing class]. One of them cancelled class, which was much appreciated.” Student B said. 

Though Student B received support from professors, the schedule change still posed challenges to their start of term.

“I also did not appreciate how in every communication about NSW, it was mentioned that it was starting a day late due to Rosh Hashanah,” Student B said. “It didn’t feel like a necessary addition, and ended up making a Jewish holiday seem like it was causing a problem for everyone else, rather than a holiday millions of people celebrate. I felt like that gave non-Jewish students the agency to say some unnecessary things.”

Student A noted that conversations about unusually late exam periods often portray the schedule as an inconvenience resulting from accommodating Jewish students, a sentiment shared by many Jewish students. 

Last year, media outlets such as the Washington Post cautioned against travelling on Wednesday in their Thanksgiving travel advice. This year, Carleton students may have to due to the late exam schedule, whereas students were able to fly on Mondays and Tuesdays in past years. This inconvenience, according to Student A, puts Jewish students in the uncomfortable position of being blamed by other students for the annoyance of the Thanksgiving schedule. 

Student A requested anonymity out of fear of backlash from the greater student body.

Dean Hofmeister wrote in an email that she didn’t know how the College Council “weighed the trade-offs between Rosh Hashanah and Thanksgiving” for this calendar, but that college exam schedules that require students to fly close-to or on holidays are not unusual. 

Reflecting on the situation, Student B said they “found it frustrating that classes started on Yom Kippur. The second day of classes (which for most classes was the first day of that class) is important. Having that be on what many people consider to be the most important Jewish holiday felt a little disrespectful.”

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