Laura Umetsu routinely brings oranges to her classroom at the University of Washington Bothell.
One day a student didn’t take one, but she still offered. He said he was fasting for Ramadan.
Ramadan lasts for about a month and is on different dates each year. It is one of the holiest times for Muslims. Those who observe it cannot eat or drink while the sun is up.
This year, the school’s final exams were scheduled during the celebration, which was from May 15 until June 14. Umetsu, who teaches business classes, wondered what she could do for her Islamic students.
She decided to schedule two tests: One at the original time and another after sunset.
“I talked to other students who were also fasting, and I thought it would be a nice thing to do,” she said.
She would accommodate any student who had a religious obligation. As a Christian, she believes others should be treated with kindness.
She also has noticed hostility toward Muslim students in the past, she said. She wanted to show support.
In November 2016, there were reports that a group of men were harassing Muslim women on campus, demanding they remove their hijabs. In another case earlier this year, someone left a bag of human waste in a room used for Muslim prayer.
Students felt unsafe, said Maria Raza, a junior.
Raza is a Muslim who was in Umetsu’s class at the time. She also was part of the student government.
She stayed awake at night thinking of the vandalism. She couldn’t concentrate during class. She decided to speak with Umetsu.
“I didn’t know she would be so supportive and understanding,” Raza said. “She knew the right things to say.”
Umetsu has been a professor at the university for about two years. Some of her colleagues have offered later finals during Ramadan before. It was a first for her.
She plans to keep offering later finals when they’re scheduled during Ramadan. All five students who took the second exam passed, Umetsu said.
Raza knows how much it means.
“This act is super important to the Muslim community, and it shows a lot of support to the students,” she said. “A lot of students don’t have to restrict themselves from eating before their tests. … During the month of Ramadan, people don’t have that option.”
Ramadan comes about 10 days earlier each year, and can be difficult to plan for in advance. People who observe the holiday might wake up as early as 2:30 a.m. to get everything done before sunrise, Raza said. They need to pray, eat and drink for the day, and brush their teeth, to make sure they don’t accidentally swallow any toothpaste. It can be hard to fall back asleep for a couple of hours before work or school, she said.
“Fasting is rewarding at the end of the day, but really physically and mentally draining,” Raza said. “It’s so nice to have people who actually understand.”