Student Government passes legislation to urge UT-Austin to make graduation ceremony more inclusive for Jewish students

Sheryl Lawrence

Trigger Warning: This article contains discussion of anti-Semitism and violence.

The UT Student Government assembly passed legislation Tuesday urging administration to change the day of the week for graduation ceremonies. 

The Jewish Sabbath, Shabbat, begins at sundown Friday nights and ends at sundown Saturday night. This year, religiously observant Jewish students will currently have to compromise their beliefs to attend the Universitywide commencement, which is scheduled for Saturday, May 22 at 8 p.m.

The spring 2019 Universitywide commencement ceremony was held Saturday, May 26 at 6 p.m., and the spring 2018 ceremony was held Saturday, May 19 at 8 p.m.

Those who observe Shabbat are forbidden from doing many activities, including writing, driving or riding in vehicles, using electricity and carrying certain objects outside during this time, according to Chabad.org

Law school representative Jordan Cope, who is Jewish, said he does not plan to attend graduation due to the conflict with the Shabbat. Law student Cope said he wrote the legislation because of the increased amount of incidents relating to anti-Semitism on campus.

“Whatever the reality is, you have to recognize that and either seek to change it or move on and celebrate in another way,” Cope said. “I will feel somewhat disappointed that I won’t be able to be with all my other fellow peers on the exact day of graduation.”

Lorren Cantu, a representative for the College of Natural Sciences, said she and fellow representatives felt it would be difficult to change the day because Muslims observe Friday and Christians observe Sunday as holy days. Chemistry sophomore Cantu asked during the general assembly meeting if Cope could amend the legislation to include a recommendation for a certain day.

Cope said he did not recommend a certain day because he wanted the administration to consider how events like graduation impose on different religious communities. During the assembly meeting, Cope made a floor amendment to include specific times graduation should not occur if the administration wants to be inclusive of religiously observant Jewish students. For the class of 2021 graduation, this time period is estimated to begin Friday, May 21 around 8:04 p.m. and end Saturday, May 22 at 9:03 p.m., according to the legislation. 

Joey Williams, director of communications for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, said UT is unable to reschedule graduation ceremonies due to the number of stakeholders involved.

“Historically, the University has held commencement Saturday night to provide the access to the highest number of students and their families,” Williams said. “Saturday also accommodates travel over the weekend for those who are unable to do so during (the) work week.”

In January, the UT Police Department sent out an incident notification about anti-Semitic graffiti on a wall at Sigma Alpha Mu’s fraternity house, which is being investigated as a hate crime. Sigma Alpha Mu was founded as a Jewish fraternity, according to their website.

Management junior Adina Traub said pieces of legislation like this one would force UT to take action regarding anti-Semitism on campus, given that the University did not do much about recent hate crimes. 

“(Students) didn’t get a text until a week later about (the hate crime against Sigma Alpha Mu),” Traub said. “It felt like they didn’t react in time.”

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the March 30 issue of The Daily Texan.