Cultural Observances and Traditions

During the year, many students, employees and other members of the College community observe cultural traditions. Multi-day observances include Rosh Hashanah, Lent, and Ramadan, just to give a few examples.

Some students, employees and community members will be waiting until sunset before they eat or drink for the first time that day. Others will select decorations for their workspaces that celebrate a season. Individuals also may choose to observe certain occasions, such as birthdays or “workiversaries” and others may not engage in such observances.  The College recognizes such cultural practices within the many backgrounds our students, employees and visitors bring to the College and local community.

The College recognizes the choice not to participate in observances and asks everyone to be sensitive to individuals’ practices as they participate in their own. Those who choose not to observe or celebrate are asked to respect the College’s culture that permits such occasions. 

(Note: When an individual requests an action by the College based on religion, the College’s Guidelines for Religious Accommodation apply. Requests for religious accommodations follow statutory guidelines.)

Here are some tips to assist students, employees and visitors in the classroom, in the workplace and across the College. 

Inclusion Tips

In areas of cultural expression, these tips answer questions that often have been asked of managers and College leaders.

  • Concentrate on the behaviors, not the beliefs.  The College’s programs of inclusion are different from the written requests for religious accommodation, which are handled separately.
    • You might ask individuals privately how you can help them succeed if you notice an unexpected change in their attention or performance.
    • Cultural traditions (and religious beliefs) are private, even when observable through clothing or discussion. Direct, personal questions should be avoided in favor of general questions expressing support for individuals who care to share. Replace “Are you fasting today because it's Ramadan?” with “Your quiz score was a little off your usual high level; anything I can help with?”
  • Serve a diverse College community with holiday decorations 
    and symbols that reflect your traditions and your respect for others’ observances near that time.  In general, the College suggests the following approaches:
    • In an assigned workstation - seasonal items. The College encourages you to learn about and show your knowledge of others’ traditions as well as displaying your own.
    • In a more public/common workspace, such as a reception area - seasonal items that reflect one or more traditions of that season. The College encourages you to maintain an intentionally inclusive environment by thinking about the audience you might welcome.
    • In a public or common space, such as a building lobby - seasonal items that reflect one or more traditions of that season; coordinated by a department, recognized student organization, or employee group; approved and monitored by the manager of the site or area; and dismantled by the coordinator within one workday following the observance.
  • Consider the effects of food-centered events. Working lunches, or celebrations that include food after a rigorous test, are examples.
    • When the College is sponsoring an activity with food, it will be most inclusive if there is an opportunity to ask in advance for any dietary requests. No need to guess and list: “pork free? gluten free? nut free? vegetarian?” Just invite requests for alternative menu items. If there is a celebration with pot luck, the organizer could ensure there is a salad, for instance.
    • Provide alternative settings for those who do not celebrate holidays, birthdays and other occasions. If all employees or all students in a department or class are taking a break for the occasion, those who refrain from celebrations should be free for personal time as well.
    • Any alternative setting must provide all access to work or class information. That may mean separating the food event by dismissing or reconvening the class or business meeting at a certain time to receive the class or work information.
    • Be aware that individuals who don’t eat pork may be unable to eat candy/treats with a gummy consistency: they are made with gelatin, which can be pork-based.
    • Year round: focusing on activities, rather than food, also is inclusive of students with food allergies or stringent dietary limitations.
    • When a condition threatens health if not accommodated, such as a nut allergy, it no longer falls into the Inclusion Tips. The written request of a student following College Procedure 3.0600 must be given most serious consideration, per statute: it represents a request for accommodating a disability. Disability Support Services will respond. For employees, Human Resources or Equity and Diversity/Title IX will consult or lead, following notification.
  • Be aware of possible physical limitations when individuals are fasting. This may be noticeable during Lent, Ramadan and other times of the year. Some individuals’ limitations may become more pronounced toward the end of the day when fasts end at sunset.
  • Respond to medication side effects. Students, employees or visitors may experience adverse effects from continuing medication when fasting. As with any situation where someone does not feel well or has signs of a serious illness, call Campus Safety and Security or 911 to assist with illness.
  • Monitor athletic participation levels; they may be affected by fasting. Consider rescheduling competitions or providing alternative hours for recreation if it will increase student participation. When reaching out to offer any adjustment, those that are time-sensitive or controlled outside the College may require additional attention and care. Reference the College’s Guidelines for Religious Accommodation if a student makes a specific request.

Equity and Diversity/Title IX, 7.11.19, updated 4.22.21, 7.23.21


Barbara Coleman-Foster
Associate Vice President, Organizational Culture and Strategy/Title IX Coordinator