Over this past year, the Muslim affinity group of the students at Hewitt has been working on their holiday awareness project to recognize Eid and Lunar New Year as a no school holiday. Zaynab, Lamar, and I have been working on a proposal with the Nightingale Bamford school about religious inclusivity. Hewitt is an institution that values diversity and inclusion, therefore, all students should have their religious holidays off. We discussed how the exclusion of holidays in most private schools has left minority students feeling overlooked. Since public schools in New York have Eid off from school, Hewitt should follow their lead and respect religious inclusivity. All students should have the opportunity to celebrate with their families on their respective holidays. Muslim students in the Islam affinity group hope to leave a legacy of respect and inclusion at Hewitt for younger generations.
From The Nightingale Bamford School, Amber Rahman and Muniyat Choudury had been working on their Eid proposal for the past three years and recently had it approved last year for the 2020-2021 school year. After hearing about their work, I decided I wanted to bring religious awareness and inclusion to Hewitt.
Going to Hewitt for 10 years, I always noticed that my religion wasn’t given the proper awareness that others had. While working on my proposal at Hewitt, I often reflected on a common conversation in lower school. In my third grade year, I remembered students would ask each other if you were Christian or Jewish. This made me believe that my religion was small and unnoticed, and it took me until middle school to realize that Islam is the world’s second-largest religion with over 1.8 billion followers. I finally understood that people didn’t even know the religion Islam existed and their lack of knowledge is partly due to the fact that we never learned about in school. The holidays in Islam and Lunar New Year were never given off for students and during the celebratory days, we never learned about each one. All of these issues I faced growing up, made me even more passionate about getting my Eid and Lunar New Year proposal passed.
In 2015, Mayor de Blasio decided to have Eid as a no school holiday in public schools in New York. This was great news, but it didn’t affect Hewitt and all private schools. I noticed that we tend to follow the public school calendar, but for this holiday our school didn’t find it important to establish a no school day. I wanted to do this proposal to spread religious awareness as Nightingale was doing, but I also knew that this was the beginning of incremental change. On this day off people will ask themselves why they are not in school, and students and faculty will begin to acknowledge Lunar New Year and the Muslim holiday Eid. Many minority students have faced rude comments about their cultures and disrespect due to lack of knowledge. It is important to educate our community about all cultures because one can say something disrespectful and not understand why, while it still hurts another student’s feelings.
After attending the student diversity leadership conference in the 9th grade, I began at the discussion about Eid as a no school holiday. Towards the end of the 9th grade, Zaynab, Lamar, Sara, and I met with the diversity head Ms. Nelson about making a Muslim affinity group in the Young Women’s cooperative. In the 10th grade, our Muslim affinity group began. During these meetings, we were focused on our Eid proposal and began to partner with Muniyat and Amber at Nightingale. After Zaynab attended the student diversity leadership conference in 10th grade, she was able to meet with the faculty at Hewitt and discuss the proposal with Ms. Stevens.
Through our partnership with two students at Nightingale and our meeting with Ms. Stevens, we created our proposal and sent it to Ms. Stevens to present at the GUILD meeting for Independent Schools of New York City. The Young Women’s cooperative was very helpful in our endeavor and we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish everything without Ms. Morton, the Director of Auxillary Programs. At first, we got feedback that another holiday would have to be taken off as a no-school holiday to get Eid on the calendar, so we were discouraged. After this news, we waited a few weeks to hear about the GUILD meeting. We got an email that our proposal was approved at Hewitt and Eid and Lunar New Year would be approved as no school holidays. For me, this day was extraordinary because it is something that always hoped would happen in my years at Hewitt. Through this exciting journey, we were so ecstatic to finally have our holiday off.
In the next two years Zaynab, Sara, Lamar, and I have at Hewitt, We hope to give presentations about religious inclusivity to the lower school, have decorations for all holidays, and give students presentations to our community, including faculty. In the future, we are looking into partnering with an organization called Project Eid Awareness. Although this accomplishment was monumental and very exciting for us, we should not have had to fight for this change, our holiday should have already been off. I plan to do significant work regarding religious and cultural insecurity at Hewitt in the future.
This is a link to the original proposal we used: Link