For someone like me, a 2021 alumnus of Rowan who spent the majority of his college career in a battle to lobby SGA, to cease holding meetings on major religious holidays, the events of the past few days have signified one thing: some things never seem to change. As someone who has been in the room during talks on this issue with SGA from 2018 to 2020, although this is more than familiar territory, what is happening right now is especially troubling.
There are not a lot of students around anymore who remember what life was like for Jewish students before Section 300, Number 301-10 was added to the official SGA bylaws in 2019. The best we could’ve hoped for back then is that we may be excused from whatever business was going on while we were fasting or welcoming in the new year. Absent any real precedent, it would be left up to the grace of the SGA Secretary to decide whether to grant or deny that excused absence. I would know, because that is exactly the situation I found myself in during my 2018 tenure as senator for Rowan Hillel when SGA scheduled a Senate meeting during Yom Kippur.
The passage of this bylaw was the first formally-guaranteed recourse the student government had given to religiously observant students to combat this issue. It exists because past SGA administrations seemed to understand that it wasn’t enough to simply grant absences to religiously observant students. Knowingly or unknowingly placing such events on such important occasions is itself an act of exclusion towards those students, because they would have just been robbed of their equal opportunity to participate in the larger community. That is why that bylaw exists. But there is still, regrettably, only so much that this bylaw can do.
It does guarantee that it is the duty of the AVP of DEI to ensure that SGA programming does not occur during major religious observances. However, absent any other rule or regulation to state that SGA is explicitly prohibited from engaging in these acts, it seems that it is ought to happen anyway.
Although it is the official duty of the AVP of DEI to stop such things from happening, they may simply choose not to, as we’ve seen happen this week.
This is not the first time in recent history that Section 300, Number 301-10 was called into action. In 2020, it was brought to the attention of the current SGA administration that a senate meeting was once again placed during an important religious holiday. Thankfully, they immediately moved to cancel it, citing that they were unaware and would fix it immediately, and thus setting the example for how every SGA administration should respond.
In contrast, the current administration has acknowledged that not only were they aware that they were scheduling a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee meeting on a day when observant Jewish students cannot attend by Jewish law, but that they did not intend to change or cancel it. Needless to say, it seems to be bad form, to say the least, for Rowan’s new SGA administration to hold a committee meeting about inclusion on a day when students of a particular protected minority will be excluded. This is also a scary moment for another reason: because it calls into question the enforceability of not just Section 300, Number 301-10, but all of SGA’s bylaws. If they are allowed to break this bylaw with impunity, why not others?
It took years of Profs going to bat on this issue for even this base change to happen. When it came time for me to graduate and pass the baton, I would’ve felt a lot more peace in the arrival of that moment had I known that future classes of Rowan students would not have to contend with the same struggles that I did. By all rights, there is no reason that they should.
But from my perspective as a recent alumnus of Rowan, it has been a genuine pleasure to see that there are still students at Rowan willing to keep fighting to safeguard the inclusion of religious minorities here. The student body has always understood that real positive change starts with them holding SGA to account, not with SGA itself. They are the leaders Rowan needs to meet the moment.
Sincerely, Alex Rossen
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