Professors at the University of Washington-Bothell have started scheduling alternative after-sunset exams for Muslim students during Ramadan, so that Muslim students’ performance on exams won’t be impacted by their fast during the day.
UW-Bothell Professor of Biology Bryan White told PJ Media that he got the idea for the after-sunset exam from a Muslim student he had last year who did well in his class right up until the final exam, during which she scored “drastically lower” than normal.
When he talked to his student afterwards, she explained she had trouble concentrating on the final because she hadn’t eaten beforehand, since the exam was held during Ramadan. Professor White said he “felt horrible” upon learning this, especially since it hadn’t crossed his mind that any of his students were fasting.
“It was at that moment that I decided I wanted to do something different next year,” he said.
So this year, just a few days before final exams started, Professor White sent an email to his students, wishing them both a Happy Memorial Day and Ramadan Kareem (the first day of Ramadan), and alerting them to an additional exam possibility — the option to take the final at 10 p.m. instead of during the normally scheduled exam slot during the day.
Regardless of whether students were fasting for Ramadan, all students were invited to the after-sunset exam slot. “It was very important to me to give this opportunity to ALL of my students,” said Professor White. “I do not know all of the responsibilities and challenges that my students face, especially during finals.”
During the night exam, 11 Muslim and 12 non-Muslim students showed up to take the exam. Beforehand, Professor White’s colleague, Dr. Raina Hussein, showed up with snacks for the students. Hussein was able to be a role model to “the young Muslim students [and show] that it is okay to be proud of your religion,” according to White.
Students praised White’s decision in interviews with PJ Media.
For Jashan Kaur, a sophomore at UW-Bothell majoring in health studies, the after-sunset biology exam was a welcome option. “I’m not Muslim but I still decided to take the exam after sunset because I usually study at night,” said Kaur.
Kaur hopes that other professors will follow in White’s footsteps, adding that she believes “every professor should offer finals after sunset” during Ramadan, and that doing so could “make a tremendous difference in grades.”
Mahek Sethi, the president of the school’s Muslim Students Association (MSA), said she absolutely supported the move.
“Fasting for nearly 18 hours a day can be very difficult,” said Sethi. “If all professors start holding exams after sunset during Ramadan, it could increase exam results, becoming a positive outcome for both the students and professors.”
According to Sethi, the MSA also took a trip to the professor’s office last week and surprised him with a painting of a tree and a succulent, to honor the efforts he’s made in support of Muslim students.
“We wanted to signify how he has helped us grow with the imagery of trees and succulent,” she said.
White said he believes his simple act had a bigger impact than expected because of the current political climate, and noted that many Muslims, non-minorities, and immigrants feel unwelcome because of the alleged rise in hate speech and President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
White said he hopes more professors start holding after-sunset exams during Ramadan, he also hopes that others will come up with even better solutions to help Muslim students. Perhaps “take-home exams” might be better, he noted.
“We will not be able to accommodate everyone’s conflicts; however, we can listen to all the various needs and figure out a fair solution that faculty, staff, and students think is reasonable,” White concluded.