Religious Observance Accommodations
Cornell is committed to supporting students who wish to practice their religious beliefs in keeping with its institutional values and compliance with New York State law. The nature and scope of accommodations will vary based on a variety of factors. Please browse the categories below to find answers to some common questions. If you need additional support or guidance, please feel free to contact the Office of Spirituality and Meaning-Making via email.
Practical Considerations for Students
It is your responsibility as a student to communicate your religious/spiritual needs to faculty and staff. Here are some important factors to guide you in that process:
- Communicate early with your professors. Academic and housing accommodations take time to make. For example, it is not reasonable to ask your professor to reschedule an exam the night before a major religious observance, especially those that are scheduled well in advance. It behooves students to anticipate their religious/spiritual needs early in the semester, leaving plenty of time for the professor and student to reach a reasonable accommodation.
- Keep in mind that a reasonable accommodation may not be your preferred accommodation. Faculty must balance numerous factors in making accommodations, including their academic responsibilities outside the classroom, the availability of proctors, other important dates, etc. Your right to receive reasonable accommodation might require additional responsibility on your part.
- If you have questions regarding how to work with a faculty or staff member, please contact the Office of Spirituality and Meaning Making (OSMM), home of Cornell United Religious Work (CURW). You may call the OSMM office at 607.255.6002 or email Oliver Goodrich, Associate Dean of Spirituality and Meaning Making. You may also contact the Office of the Dean of the Faculty by email or by phone at 607.255.4843.
Building and Housing Access
If you need religious accommodations for your on-campus housing, please contact the OSMM office at 607.255.6002 or email Oliver Goodrich, Associate Dean of Spirituality and Meaning Making. You may also contact the Office of Housing and Residential life to explore possibilities at 607.255.5368 or by email.
If you would like to request religious accommodations in order to access another building on campus, please contact the OSMM office at 607.255.6002 or email Oliver Goodrich, Associate Dean of Spirituality and Meaning Making. Oliver will work with you to get you in contact with the appropriate person on campus.
Sample Religious Observance Accommodations Email
Not sure how to approach your professor about requesting religious accommodations? Here is a sample email you might send:
Subject: Religious Accommodation for [Course Number]
Dear Professor [last name],
I am enrolled in your course [course number]. I identify as an observing [religious affiliation], and I am writing to request that you make accommodation for my religious observance this semester in accordance with the religious observances academic policy. On [enter date or dates] we will be observing [name of holiday]. This observance coincides with [name of assignment] that is listed on the syllabus.
I would like to work with you to explore how I can meet the requirements of your course while still honoring my religious practice. One option that I would propose is [enter request]. I would also be open to any other suggestions that you might have.
If it would be easier, I would be happy to talk with you about this further in person or by phone. Thank you in advance for accommodating my request.
[Name, phone number optional]
Religious Observance Academic Policy
The university is committed to supporting students who wish to practice their religious beliefs. Students are urged to discuss religious absences with their instructors well in advance of the religious holiday so that arrangements for making up work can be resolved before the absence. Cornell’s faculty are governed by the Faculty Handbook, which advises them as follows regarding how to accommodate student religious observance:
Religious Observance Accommodations
Instructional staff are required by New York State law to accommodate students when religious observance conflicts with exam-taking, class attendance, and other course-related requirements:
“3. It shall be the responsibility of the faculty and of the administrative officials of each institution of higher education to make available to each student who is absent from school, because of his or her religious beliefs, an equivalent opportunity to... make up any examination, study or work requirements which he or she may have missed because of such absence on any particular day or days. ...
“4. If… classes, examinations, study or work requirements are held on Friday after four o’clock post meridian or on Saturday, similar or makeup classes, examinations, study or work requirements… shall be made available on other days, where it is possible and practicable to do so….”
Cornell United Religious Work maintains a list of religious holidays. It is important to take these dates into consideration when designing a course syllabus. Many students are unaware that steps can be taken so that they can be committed to both their faith and their studies. Some are aware but hesitant to seek an accommodation because they fear retribution once their faith is revealed. These realities make it all the more important to communicate accommodation mechanisms early in the term, preferably via a published syllabus. The sensitive handling of a religious-observance accommodation sends a positive message to the student because it reaffirms Cornell’s commitment to diversity of thought.