The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

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Opinion | ETHS lacks accessibility for Muslim students

Opinion+%7C+ETHS+lacks+accessibility+for+Muslim+students

ETHS is an establishment that has long comported itself as a cultivator of diversity. Serving one of the broadest demographics in Illinois, the school prides itself in fostering the intersection of background and perspective, promoting diversity across disciplines and boldening identities through events like summits. The school places a great emphasis on being an institution that represents all of its students and accommodates their needs accordingly. And although, much to its credit, the school has excelled in many aspects of addressing intersectionality, a gaping hole remains in the school’s cafeteria food services. 

Having waited in the notoriously long lunch lines for their opportunity to select a meal that will fuel them for the second haul of the school day, many students find the options in the food service area that cater to their dietary needs to be very limited. When the meat served in the school is not a viable option, students’ lunches tend to be nearly the same every day, choosing between bosco sticks, pizza and the occasional vegetarian special. It’s unacceptable that such an integral part of the school’s daily operations falters in upholding the institution’s values.

As of now, there are not many accommodating options offered within the cafeterias to meet various dietary needs. Meat makes up a large portion of the food served, being neither halal or kosher certified. Even beyond religious dietary restrictions, the vegetarian and vegan options remain very limited, with the salads containing cheese and chicken, the PB&Js making unreliable appearances and vegetarian special meals not being offered every day. And vegan options are even more sparse. As mentioned before, this can make the food offered in the cafeterias repetitive to many, and ignores the needs of a significant portion of the student population.

Although many establishments have made the effort to provide an adequate breadth of meals, the food offered is often lackluster. In one California academic program that I attended, the halal and kosher meat offered was merely a choice between a slab of poorly cooked beef and dry chicken, both of which were void of any distinct taste or seasoning. Illinois’ HB3636 mandates that its schools offer students halal and kosher meals upon request, and that is precisely what District 202 must do. 

The accommodating meals should be genuine, not made with any less effort than the system’s current options. Food is one of the most central components of a community. It is ubiquitous across our daily experiences, and can be the reason a student may or may not feel a sense of belonging. Therefore, the school should make an especially strong effort to accommodate its community through such a medium. 

Seeing as Muslim students are underrepresented in these manners, an initiative sponsored by Emerge—a student leadership and advocacy coordination club—pushes for student services for the Muslim constituents of the student body and has set out to address this issue among others. The initiative has especially set its goals on organizing a partnership between ETHS’s cafeterias and a food service that serves halal meal options. Amidst many of the school’s shortcomings in representing its Muslim student population, from food access to prayer accessibility and facilities to the observation of Muslim holidays, our group was incentivized to hold the school accountable to its promises to the student body.

Omar Hasiba, a member of the initiative, elaborates on the implications of this negligence. 

“There hasn’t been an adequate response for Jewish students and Muslim students and minorities in general,” he said.

He emphasizes that this lack of responsiveness to members of the community can “make students feel like they’re not seen or heard within the school system.”

Mira Hasiba, another member of the initiative, talks about the school’s response to the group’s efforts.

“I think the school tries to represent everyone, and I feel like it is genuine,” she said. “But they can try much harder, and they have a lot more work to do.”

She commented that although the administration was affectionate toward the idea, she thought that “they just need more input for what would make ETHS more fair and represent everyone.”

But the initiative’s efforts haven’t seen the most direct intent from the administration. Progress has been made at a less than desirable pace due to a lack of rigid scheduling, sometimes from administration’s end. There’s no doubt that the food services alone have much to manage and attend to, but the group’s difficulty in propelling this proposal questions the school’s genuineness on this issue.

Furthermore, this dilemma questions the integrity of the school’s foundational principles. To what extent is the institution willing to uphold equitable practices? How can an establishment claim to bridge the disparities among the student population when only some demographics feel as if their needs are heard? This goes beyond just providing equal academic opportunities. This negligence ignores one of the most fundamental needs of a significant portion of its student body, and overlooking someone’s access to food is one of the most direct forms of ousting a demographic. 

This failure to address the needs of the student base holds no basis. Despite legal pressure being applied by the passing of HB3636, the school has made no announcement of its plans to adhere to the state legislature. While some may argue that supplying these meals is too difficult a task, ETHS cannot excuse itself from a standard that the neighboring District 219 holds.

Having made a partnership with Quest Food Management Services, Niles West and Niles North high schools provide both halal and kosher food options. With the resources that ETHS holds and the effort that it has seen from its student body to advocate for similar accessibility, the institution has no excuse not to initiate similar partnerships and practices.

As the school’s responsibility to serve its students becomes more incumbent, it becomes clearer that the school lacks perspective on how it must accommodate its students. When students feel as if they are not heard, it is a severe symptom of grave mismanagement by the school authority. If the administration is sincere in its intentions, then addressing the Muslim student body’s lack of accessibility should be one of its forefront priorities, especially with strong pressure from the students, the state and other schools.

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Emir Bombaci, Opinion Columnist
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