• Bill accommodating students' religion signed into law

    By: Deborah Horne

    Updated:

    The holy month of Ramadan is meant to be a sacrifice.  But for many college students, fasting all day has occasionally meant sacrificing good grades too.

    A new law aims to make it easier for students with a religious conflict.

    The idea started at the University of Washington in Bothell.

     For Muslim American students like Zoha Awan, school has long meant the four R's:  reading, writing, (a)rithmetic and Ramadan.

     "For me, it was kind of just pushing through, getting it done day by day," said Zoha.

    In 2016, Dr. Bryan White noticed "pushing through" wasn't working for one student. She had done especially poorly on an exam.  So he asked if something was going on.

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     "She wasn't making excuses," said White. "But she did talk about fasting for Ramadan. And that's when my heart just dropped because I try to support all students in my classroom. And here were a number of students that, at least how I experience not having food were at a significant disadvantage for my exam."

    When Ramadan came around the next year, "I said that I have to do something."

    So in 2017, White offered exams after the students' Ramadan fast was over for the day.

    "I was really, really shocked," said Zoha.  She got the news in an email.

     "I was not expecting him to be, 'OK, let me offer you guys some accommodations,'" she said. "I was not expecting that at all."

     "And what was neat is we broke fast together," said White. "We all ate together. And the exam went from 10 p.m. to midnight."

     "It was when I saw Dr. White's story about UW Bothell about him providing accommodations that I felt like, you know, this is an amazing story," said Byron Dondoyano Jr., a UW Seattle junior.

    That amazing story struck nonreligious Dondoyano like a thunderbolt.  

     "But why are we celebrating this at an institution that celebrates diversity and inclusion?" he asked.

    So he sought out Mennah el-Gammal on UW's Seattle campus to push for something she says she had never even considered requesting.

    "Because you don't want to alienate yourself," said el-Gammal.

     She said they needed someone else to bring it up.

    "Absolutely," she said. "I think that's why being an ally, or I prefer accomplice, but being an ally is so important."

    Why does she prefer "accomplice"?

    "I do because it means that you have a mutual stake in something even if you, yourself aren't affected by it."

    They worked together with state Sen. Bob Hasegawa and religious communities across the country and Canada to fashion a bill.

    "We started from scratch," said Dondoyano, "and we learned a lot from this whole process. And so we are really excited to see this end up becoming a bill that we want to continue to work on."

    It is life-changing legislation that began with an idea from just one man.
       
    "I feel like one person can make such a big difference," said Zoha. "And I think Dr. White really did that for UW Bothell."

    This new law extends to students of all faiths.

    Now Dondoyano and el-Gammal want to take this nationwide. They are already talking to their counterparts in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Utah.  

    The next stop after that, they say, will be the U.S. Congress.

    The new law goes into effect in this state on July 29.
     

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