An Aberdeen University student has hit out after being told he would have to skip the most important day in the Jewish calendar to attend a class – despite the exact same session running the following day.
Medical student Robbie said he was “outraged” after university lecturers told him he would have to skip the “holiest day in the Jewish calendar”.
Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, is on September 16. Jews fast for 25 hours, and are not allowed to carry or use electronics.
When the 24-year-old discovered he had an anatomy lab that day he asked if he could swap to the next day but claims he was told lecturers had decided switches couldn’t be made “irrespective of any reasons from the students”.
Aberdeen University has since apologised for the clash, stating that there has been “an error in communication on our part and this was applied incorrectly to requests made for religious or health reasons”.
‘How would you feel if you missed Christmas for no reason’
“The only way I can describe it is how you would feel if you missed Christmas for no reason other than just because you were told that you had to,” the medical student said.
“If you asked any Jewish person what the most important day in the Jewish calendar was – they would tell you Yom Kippur.
“To me, there are certain days that are important and that is the one.
“When the sun sets next Thursday, that is that start of Yom Kippur and I won’t eat or drink – I will avoid anything that makes me happy. Even things like putting on aftershave.
“You go to the synagogue, it is a day to atone for your sins over the year and for Jews it is a very special day – you reflect on the year, things you have done wrong and how to be a better person for the next year.”
Robbie claims when initially contacting the university about the simple swap, he was told it would be no issue.
But just an hour later, he was advised otherwise.
He said: “I got an e-mail back saying that there was a blanket rule and that there will be no swapping or any accommodations made at all no matter what the reason, which I was really outraged at, especially because they’ve made accommodations in the past for people.
“I can totally understand if I was qualified and I was working out in the wards because at the end of the day people need staff to run a hospital.
‘Fundamental lack of care for students’
“But when you know that there is a solution and you know there is the exact same class running the following day, for some arbitrary reason they have just decided that they are not going to allow swaps no matter what and they say it is irrespective of the reason.
“It just shows a fundamental lack of care for the students.”
An Aberdeen University spokesman said: “The University of Aberdeen has apologised to and actioned a change in session for students affected by a timetabling clash in our anatomy labs with Yom Kippur.
“Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the university’s anatomy labs are operating under strict capacity rules.
“Alterations to timetabling for these sessions also has a knock-on impact on other clinical sessions and makes it difficult for the School to track students who may require catch-up sessions.
“As a result, staff were advised to decline general requests to switch sessions. Unfortunately there has been an error in communication on our part and this was applied incorrectly to requests made for religious or health reasons.
University staff reminded of religion and belief policy
“Requests for adjustments related to Yom Kippur should have been supported and school staff have been reminded of our religion and belief policy to ensure this doesn’t arise in the future.
“The university has an equality, diversity and inclusion committee with an established membership drawn from across all sectors of the university.”
It is not the first time students at the institution’s School of Medicine have called for change in the culture and curriculum to address concerns over institutional racism.
An open letter in June 2020 from the organisation’s Black Medical Society (BMS) included a number of first-hand accounts from people who claim to have experienced racism on university premises.
Speaking at the time, Professor Siladitya Bhattacharya, head of the School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, said he was “shocked and saddened” by the accounts detailed in the letter.
The professor, who is also co-chairman of the university’s working group dedicated to tackling racial harassment and race equality charter champion, said he was “actively taking steps” to address the issues.