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The Sentinel

The Student News Site of John Jay College of Criminal Justice

The Sentinel

The Student News Site of John Jay College of Criminal Justice

The Sentinel

Embracing Inclusivity: John Jay’s Reaction to CUNY’s Landmark Decision on Cultural and Religious Holidays

Alexandra Cortese
Faith FULL Fellowship Poster

The insufficiency of religious and cultural accommodation within CUNY’s academic calendar illustrated the broader struggle for inclusivity in higher education. However, all of this is set to change beginning in 2025.

On Wednesday, February 14, 2024, CUNY Chancellor Matos Rodríguez officially announced a groundbreaking decision.“I’m so proud to tell you that CUNY is now one of the first universities in the nation to designate Lunar New Year, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Diwali as official instructional holidays.” He added, “This historic change brings CUNY in line with NYC public schools, and shows our commitment to advancing equity for our students.” 

Muminah Ahmed, a Pakistani-Muslim freshman student at John Jay, expressed her frustration with the prolonged duration needed for CUNY to arrive at this decision. “It’s been years of students asking for Eid, Diwali, and Lunar New Year to be officially celebrated,” she stated. “It’s nice to finally be included but it feels as though we were an afterthought. Historically, people of color have been overlooked and compared to their white counterparts.”

Despite the diverse opportunities amongst CUNY campuses, including the Faith FULL Interfaith Fellowship, the decision to abstain from observing closures during religious and cultural holidays such as Diwali, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Lunar New Year prompted inquiries into CUNY’s inclusivity policies.

Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr are two significant Islamic holidays Muslims globally celebrate. Eid al-Adha, or the “Festival of Sacrifice,” emphasizes the importance of sacrifice, obedience, and gratitude. Eid-al Fitr, also known as the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community. Both days provide opportunities for Muslims to strengthen bonds with family and friends and engage in acts of worship and charity. 

Sadia Riya, a freshman student and member of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), asserted, “It’s about time CUNY recognized holidays that 2 billion people have celebrated for centuries!”

Fairoz Avin, a senior, shared, “Being able to celebrate both Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha means more time with my family on incredibly important days. We are thankful for CUNY’s decision.”

Diwali, deriving from the Sanskrit word “Deepavali,” which means “row of lighted lamps,” is one of the most significant festivals in Hinduism. During Diwali, families gather to perform prayers, seeking blessings and prosperity for the coming year. This day symbolizes the triumph of good over evil, showcased by the illumination of homes and streets with rows of oil lamps, candles, and lights. 

Varshanie Sookwah, a sophomore majoring in Law & Society, explained how CUNY’s decision is more than a mere policy change, “Growing up, it was always a struggle for me to go to school on the day of Diwali. For so many years, I missed out on prepping sweets with my family. Now that we have Diwali off, I feel recognized as a Hindu.”

Disha Navadia, a junior part of the John Jay Campus Activity Board and Vice President of the John Jay Desi Society, further elaborated on this struggle. “Diwali is a joyous festival that usually takes place during our midterms, which is unfortunate as I am not able to fully enjoy the festival,” said Navadia.

Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, is a significant celebration in many Asian cultures. Families gather for reunions, share meals, exchange gifts, and honor their ancestors. This day is a time for renewal, reflection, and hope for happiness and success in the coming new year. 

Christina Tran, a senior and President of the APISA (Asian Pacific Islander Students Association) here at John Jay expressed the relief of not having to choose between education and culture. “For my family, being present at school took priority over celebrating the Lunar New Year so I am ecstatic that other families won’t be forced to choose anymore said Tran.

Assistant Professor Toy-Fung Tung of the English Department gave insights into the opinion of John Jay’s faculty. “I think the John Jay faculty is supportive of any actions to celebrate, recognize, and legitimize diversity.”

Although not celebrating any of the four holidays, Katerina Goro, a freshman at John Jay, recognized the significance of CUNY’s decision. “Seeing my friends being able to celebrate their holidays without the stress of falling behind academically fills me with a sense of appreciation and solidarity, as it promotes a deeper sense of identity and connection to heritage that wasn’t allowed before,” Goro explained.

CUNY representatives landmark decision to observe closures on Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Diwali, and Lunar New Year signals a significant step forward in fostering a campus culture that values diversity and cultural expression. 

As Professor Tung claimed, “CUNY’s decision gives legitimacy to the cultures of these students. Anyone can say how important diversity is, but celebrating it makes an important point. Show don’t tell.”


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About the Contributor
Alexandra Cortese
Alexandra Cortese, Editor-in-Chief

Alexandra Cortese is a junior at John Jay College. She is majoring in law & society and is minoring in English literature.

Alexandra has previously served as the Web Editor for The Sentinel during the 2023 spring semester, as the Managing Editor for the fall 2023 semester, and is now the Editor-in-Chief. Alexandra’s love for writing motivates her to still write freelance and has been doing so since September 2022.

Alexandra is also a member of The John Jay Honors Program, Sigma Tau Delta international English honor society, and was a research assistant at The Legal Disruption Project during the Fall 2023 semester. 

Alexandra’s favorite story she has written is “Greek Life at CUNY.” She feels Greek life is controversial and her story pushes the envelope on that subject matter in the voice of John Jay students. Alexandra’s story dives into the stained reputation of Greek life and how John Jay sorority and fraternity members are challenging that narrative by emphasizing diversity, equity concerns, and community service.

Alexandra hopes to capture the vibrant community within John Jay in her role as editor-in-chief.

Alexandra’s favorite quote is “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I'm Possible!” - Audrey Hepburn.

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