College Lacks Sufficient Dining Options, Support During Ramadan

As a Muslim international Moroccan student, I have struggled with the label of Arab Muslim Middle Eastern woman and with making people believe I have as much agency over my actions and body as white women. As a North African of Arab descent and a Muslim, this label doesn’t bother me as it would other Muslim brothers and sisters. However, I still get frustrated when a person can’t distinguish between me as a person and me as a Muslim Moroccan woman. I am aware that the way I present myself can easily confuse people about where I am from, and I quickly learned that I have the privilege to to change or “improve” my hair texture, my accent, and my tone of voice to adapt to different situations. The only thing I was and will never be able to change is my ancestry and religion, so I chose to embrace them both and strengthen my faith in Islam.

This new strength, unfortunately for me, resulted in another fear: the fear of not being “moderate” enough in the eyes of others. One of the hardest times of the year to fit in on campus is for sure Ramadan. Ramadan is the holiest month in the Muslim calendar. During Ramadan, all adult Muslims fast — abstaining from all food or drink, including water — from dawn to sunset. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars, or duties, of Islam, and it is mandatory for all healthy adult Muslims. During this month, Muslims would usually eat two meals: one before sunrise and one after sunset in the evening. Personally, balancing studying, getting food during the day for night time, or convincing professors to change the date for a final was never an easy task during my four years at Oberlin. I had instances where the only possibility was for me to take a final before everyone in the class, since the Office of the Registrar sets a specific date for all finals, and I never know if my religion is a strong enough reason to ask for an accomodation. I only heard of medical incompletes a couple days ago, and it is one of innumerable things I wish I had known as an international student navigating the College.

Muslim students were told that AVI Foodsystems would be making special dining accommodations for Muslim students on campus. AVI has also announced providing 5 a.m. meals on Thursdays and has promised to make hot meals for dinner every day. However, the food is not always balanced enough to sustain a person during their daily activities. Considering that Ramadan lasts 30 days uninterrupted and coincides with reading period and exams, if the food is not adapted to the needs of the students and their lifestyle, it will fail at supporting them in their educational endeavors.

Considering the small number of Muslim students at Oberlin, it is already hard to create a sense of community and festivity that you would feel in an Islamic country at this period of time, but it is even harder to pass information about how to navigate campus. Fawad Mohammadi, a College first-year from Afghanistan, has shared with me how his first Ramadan at Oberlin has been: “I wasn’t expecting the same feeling of festivity and community as I experienced back home, but I was reassured to hear that AVI was ready to serve additional Thursday meals and hot meals in the evening. You can imagine my friends and [my] disappointment by the lack of Halal options for the dinner hot meals at DeCafé.” 

Indeed, even if AVI had made the decision earlier this year to provide Halal chicken at all its facilities, some dishes containing pork bacon make it a Haram meal, prohibited from consumption for Muslims. After fasting an entire day, it is not uncommon for one to get tired, and having to get food at that time from Stevenson can be hard. Muslim students are relying on AVI’s promise for hot dinner froom DeCafé that students can take home and reheat as needed. 

The hot meal, if Halal, would serve as a sunset meal. Other food such as high-fiber products, fruits and vegetables, and breakfast staples would serve as a sunrise meal, preparing the body to face the 16 hours of fasting. One of the issues with the breakfast items available at DeCafé is that they are only available for additional Xchange Points — and considering it is the end of the semester, not all students have enough Flex Points to get the balanced meal they need.

If a Muslim student chose to accomplish the requirement of fasting, then they have to plan what Halal food they can eat at 8 p.m. or 5 a.m. Of course, for first-year students in dorms, and especially because of COVID-19, it is a hard task to accomplish. Many students have to choose between fasting and performing well in their studies. Providing students with more options, and making it clear to them what resources are available, would help them plan ahead with their professors about how to adjust the timing of deadlines and exams. It will also make the process for students — who are already tired because of the physically demanding act of fasting — easier if they don’t need to worry about communicating with professors and finding Halal food at accessible times.