Webinar discusses Islamophobia on college campuses

Cassidy Smith, Staff Writer

JSU’s International House and Programs hosted a “Support Muslim Students” webinar on Tuesday, October 10 in the Houston Cole Library. This presentation focused mostly on how to keep college campuses safe and inclusive of our Muslim students. The two distinguished speakers were Dr. Amer F. Ahmed, an Intercultural Diversity Consultant, and Farzana Nayani, an Intercultural Diversity Consultant and Inclusion Specialist.

The webinar opened with a few statistics; one in particular was from a Harvard study which asserted that more than 50% of Muslim students have been bullied due to their religious backgrounds. To combat this, Ahmed and Nayani suggested, campuses need to seek to understand Islamophobia, what contributes to its persistence, and the current and evolving needs for Muslim students on any campus.

Islamophobia is defined as an exaggerated fear, hatred and hostility toward Islam and Muslims perpetuated by negative stereotypes, resulting in bias and prejudice. This is especially crucial on a college campus, where all students should feel comfortable and equal.

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Because the world population of Muslims is 25%, or about 1.7 billion people, this is a problem that needs to be addressed. According to the webinar, there are five current exacerbating factors on the Islamophobia problem: world terrorism being equated with the entire Muslim community; presidential and world politics; media representation; the “us versus them” rhetoric; and suspicion.

The consequences, unfortunately, are hate crimes, violence, profiling, mosque vandalism, marginalization, surveillance, anti-Muslim hate rallies and micro-aggressions.

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The webinar gave a chance for the people in attendance to speak their minds about whose responsibility it is to stand up to Islamophobic rhetoric on our campus. Basically, who should be responsible?

JSU Director of Community Standards Lauren Lowell says it comes down to all of us.

“I think it is everybody’s responsibility,” Lowell said, “but when you think about official process, naturally it’s going to go through either Title 9 or Student Conduct because it’s considered harassment or maybe threatening, hostile behavior—anything that’s going to affect the student’s ability to be successful. But when you think about what happens in the moment, I’d like to think that any faculty or staff member would step in and at least try to de-escalate the situation.”

Many college campuses have Muslim Student Associations to support their Muslim students, and JSU has the International Student Association, which supports students from all cultural backgrounds. The availability of support systems like this are vital to Muslim students who may be dealing with Islamophobia.

According to Ahmed, there are six major things for campuses and students to do to ensure the safety of their Muslim population: develop educational programs, draw from faculty, student affairs as resources of experience, utilize campus resources, bring in outside speakers and specialists, create spaces for dialogue, and protect the safety of Muslim students.

Many different strategies for action were offered up during the webinar; these include recognizing Islamophobia as a form of racism and treating it that way, offering training for faculty and staff on recognition and combat, holding campus gatherings addressing racism, ensuring Islam bias-free curriculum (students should not feel the need to defend their religion) and developing appropriate responses to support faculty to oppose anti-Muslim rhetoric.

For more information about JSU’s International Student Organization, can visit their page on JSU’s website.

To contact the speakers for the webinar:

Dr. Amer F. Ahmed Intercultural Diversity Consultant: amer@amerfahmed.com

Farzana Nayani Intercultural Diversity Consultant: farzana@farzananayani.com

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