It’s always noteworthy when a national publication features a student voice, and Kelsey Oberbroeckling’s editorial in the August 19, 2021 edition of Diverse: Issues in Higher Education was no exception.
Oberbroeckling’s piece, “Coordinating University and Religious Calendars: An Inclusive Practice,” provides a student perspective on the problem of academic calendars that don’t account for the needs of a multicultural, multi-faith student body. As a Jewish member of the Wolfpack, Oberbroeckling has observed firsthand what can and does happen when universities fail to create inclusive practices around religious observances that do not align with the traditional calendars that have been in use, in many cases, for decades or longer.
The editorial explains how non-Christian students must plan far in advance, checking the syllabus for each course at the beginning of the semester and making alternate arrangements for the inevitable conflict of assignments, tests, speakers, or other events that fall on important religious holidays.
Oberbroeckling, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in higher education administration, will graduate this spring and plans a career in higher education, possibly in new student programs, career services, or another area where she can help create a positive university environment. She currently works in the Poole College of Management’s Global Programs Office, has a bachelor’s degree in marketing and earned a certificate in leadership studies. Read on for our interview.
Diversity Digest: Diverse: Issues in Higher Education recently published your editorial about the continuing problem of university instructors and staff scheduling events on religious holidays. Whether intentional or not, this oversight creates an exclusionary practice that hinders the free exercise of religion. Why do you think this problem persists, and do you see any recent improvement?
Kelsey Oberbroeckling: I think the problem persists because non-Christians are in the minority, and it’s easy to stay the same. Universities are pressed with a lot of issues that demand their attention, and this one has not made it to the forefront of issues that we need to stop now, and for good reason, because racial issues, for example, might be more important. However, it’s still a problem. As far as recent improvement, I remember standardized tests, when I was in elementary school in Florida, were always on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, which was difficult. It took a parent or student to call attention to it. Now, it depends on what university you’re at, and your professors. It’s hard to feel improvement because you’re constantly starting over.
Digest: How did you happen to write the piece for Diverse: Issues in Higher Education?
Oberbroeckling: I wrote the piece for a project in my Diversity in Higher Ed class with Dr. Krispin Barr. The assignment was an opinion piece, and we were encouraged to to try to get it published. I wrote it last spring, submitted it in the summer, and it got picked up. It was always a goal of mine to be published in grad school.
Digest: In your article, you suggest better coordination of calendars within universities, along with stronger policies and procedures for instructors to submit course schedules in advance for date checks, as possible ways that institutions can be more proactive about eliminating the problem. In your opinion, what are the harms of continuing as we are now without doing more?
Oberbroeckling: Many don’t understand the burden for students that happens each semester when you have to figure out the dates and make the ask. Later, in the workplace, it can be the same issue. In the short term, students might miss valuable parts of the campus experience, either academically or socially. In the long term, it could impact general attitudes about the university and even alumni giving.
Digest: Even though our country began as a haven for religious freedom, it seems that some of our country’s customary practices derive from the worldview of the country’s founders and not the millions of diverse people who have come here since then. What do you think it will take for universities, educational institutions in general, and even the rest of America, to finally overcome the problem of not recognizing the existence of other faiths and faith practices as equally legitimate ways of being American?
Oberbroeckling: It’s hard to imagine that we’d get to the point where a Jewish holiday would be a national holiday in America. I don’t see that happening. It would be nice to have a Jewish president, someone who is highly visible, who could impact policy at a high level. But little things could help, such as awareness, acceptance and the inclusion of Jewish holidays on calendars so that more people will notice them. Companies are already making moves to say Happy Rosh Hashanah, or “have an easy fast.” I hope the trend will continue. For example, we see the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center—why not share other holidays on mainstream news? I’m interested in learning about other holidays, and I hope other Americans are too. I do see a cultural shift around holidays. It’s easier, and there’s less ‘othering’ of non-Christian people for taking days off. Flexible holiday policies, for example, allow people to take a floating holiday when they need one.
Digest: Tell us about your experience as a Jew at NC State. Where do you feel most affirmed and recognized on campus, and where could the university improve in how it embraces its Jewish community?
Oberbroeckling: As a grad student, I’m not involved much on campus, but I do attend synagogue at home via Zoom. This semester, I started synagogue shopping. I feel affirmed and recognized in my classes, which is a testament to the Higher Education Administration program. The course topics speak to how religious experiences and spirituality practices affect students, particularly the Diversity in Higher Ed course. I have learned from many of my peers’ experiences, and I was glad to be able to provide a non-Christian perspective. Being Jewish is important to me, and I credit Judaism for my curiosity and my drive to question, learn and work for change. I care so much about the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, “repairing the world,” and I hope that I live out these values in my faith and beyond.