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. Please contact Joel Harter for additional support or guidance.
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 just days before a major religious observance, especially those that are scheduled well in advance. Students are encouraged to anticipate their religious/spiritual needs early in the semester, and at least two weeks before the observance, 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 the academic requirements of the course or program, their academic responsibilities outside the classroom, the availability of proctors, other important dates, etc.
- If you have questions regarding how to work with a faculty or staff member, please contact Joel Harter with the Office of Spirituality and Meaning Making (OSMM) or call the OSMM office at 607.255.6003. You may also contact the Office of the Dean of the Faculty by email or at 607.255.4843.
Cornell Dining is proud to offer multiple options on campus for students who need religious dietary accommodations. If you have specific questions about managing religious dietary requirements at Cornell Dining, please contact the Dining Staff.
If you will be fasting as part of your religious observance, please visit this excellent resource from Cornell Health with some tips for how you can integrate your spiritual and nutritional wellness.
104 West! on West Campus offers both STAR-K meat and STAR-D dairy certified options. All kosher foods are prepared and packaged under the supervision of a Mashgiach. Dining options also include halal, Seventh-day Adventist, vegetarian, vegan, and other diets.
Morrison Dining Hall on North Campus maintains kosher and halal dining stations.
Additional pre-packaged kosher options are available at:
- Amit Bhatia Libe Café (Olin Library)
- Bear Necessities (Robert Purcell Community Center)
- Cornell Dairy Bar, which exclusively serves kosher ice cream.
- Jansen’s Market (Noyes Community Recreation Center)
- Mattin’s (Duffield Hall)
- Vet College Café
Cornell Dining maintains a list of up-to-date Halal Resources on Campus. These include:
The Office of Housing and Residential Life works with students from diverse religious traditions to explore accommodations for on-campus housing. Common requests involve modesty, cleanliness, and religious holiday observance. As with academic accommodations, please understand that a reasonable accommodation may not be your preferred accommodation.
Students requesting accommodation are encouraged to contact Housing and Residential Life as early as possible at 607.255.5368 or by email, and the Office will do its best to find a reasonable accommodation.
Because some residence halls are better setup for shabbat observance than others, it is important to notify Housing and Residential LIfe if you need accommodation for Shabbat. Common considerations include:
- Shabbat keys: While students normally access residence hall buildings electronically with their Cornell ID, a Shabbat key is available upon request.
- Motion sensors: Some residence halls have motion-sensored lights or bathroom fixtures.
Staff with Chabad and Hillel are available to assist Jewish students with religious observance, and the affiliated student-run Center for Jewish Living includes housing options for students after their first year.
Cornell will work with any student who requires a private or single-gender swim test. Physical Education and Recreation Services regularly offers women only swim tests, as well as women only swim classes as needed. Students are always welcome to wear full-body swim clothing.If you have any concerns about the swim requirement, or need special consideration because of religious observance, please contact Brigitta Putnam, Associate Director of Physical Education, at 607.255.7738 or by email.
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….”
The Office of Spirituality and Meaning-Making (OSMM) works with Cornell United Religious Work (CURW) to maintain a list of major religious holidays. It is important to take these dates into consideration when designing a course syllabus.
Many students are unaware that they can request accommodation so 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 equity and belonging.