The University of North Carolina at Charlotte has “adjusted” its policy to allow kirpan – a holy dagger carried by some Sikhs – on campus grounds, nearly two months after a Sikh student was handcuffed for wearing the article of faith.
“Effective immediately, we have adjusted our policy to reflect that kirpans will be permitted on campus provided that the blade length is less than three inches and the kirpan is worn close to the body in a sheath at all times,” a university statement said.
The statement signed by Chancellor Sharon Gaber and Brandon Wolfe, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, said the decision was taken after dialogue with representatives from the local and global Sikh communities.
This was done to honour the tenets of religious freedom while protecting the safety of our campus, the university said.
The Incident: 22 September
In an incident on 22 September, a Sikh student was handcuffed for wearing a kirpan on campus grounds, even after offering to remove it. The incident came to light two days later when the student posted a video on Twitter.
"I wasn't going to post this, but I don't think I will receive any support from @unccharlotte. I was told someone called 911 and reported me, and I got cuffed for "resisting" because I refused to let the officer take my kirpan out of the miyaan," he wrote, along with the video.
The video showed the student offering to "take the whole thing off" but was instead handcuffed by the police officer.
The university, in a statement after the incident, said that that police officers responded to a 911 call reporting someone with a knife in the building and engaged the individual in question.
During this interaction, the individual was placed in handcuffs while officers took possession of the object, the university statement at the time had said. The handcuffs were removed after the object was retrieved and further investigation showed the item was a kirpan.
The Policy on ‘Edged Instruments’
The university statement on 23 September said that the state law and UNC policy prohibit the possession of a knife or other edged instruments on campus.
It, however, promised to take the incident as a learning opportunity and engage in constructive dialogue with Sikh students and employees.
“Together, we are confident we can find reasonable measures and educational opportunities that both protect the safety of our campus and the religious practices of our community members,” the statement had said.
The New Policy
According to an updated weapons on campus policy, edged instruments that are articles of faith like kirpans are permitted on campus, provided that the blade length of the article is less than three inches and the blade is worn close to the body in a sheath at all times.
“If individuals would like to request religious accommodations for instruments with longer blades or any other items prohibited under this Policy, they may contact the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX for assistance,” the updated policy says.
Outreach, Education and Training
The university was approached by members of the local and global Sikh communities to offer their partnership. “We are grateful for their willingness to offer valuable perspectives as we move forward,” the university had previously said.
The UNC had also informed that it was revising its “weapons on campus policy” with the objective of accommodating the religious faith of our employees and students while protecting the safety of our campus.
“We are reaching out and learning from other institutions that have made similar changes, and we will engage campus representatives in the review process,” the university said on 29 September.
The university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, with support from Institutional Integrity, also conducted additional awareness training with the police department and promised to continue its work to expand our cultural education and training opportunities for all of campus.