Honors students take part in panel discussion on Islamophobia

Two current Honors students and an Honors alumna participated in a panel discussion about Islamophobia during an hour-long presentation on Saturday, September 23.

Junior Sociology major Nabintou Doumbia, Senior English major Nushrat Rahman and Wayne State University and Honors alumna Hana Alsary talked about their experiences at Wayne State when it came to the subject of Islamophobia. The event was put on by the Council for American-Islam Relations, who was represented on panel by Asha Noor and Ousainoue Touray.

Specifically, Noor wanted to reach out to Muslim students on campus to get their perspective of Islamophobia, a perspective that is typically ignored Doumbia said.

"In conversations on Islamophobia and Muslims in America, the public is often exposed to the perspective of news anchors who don't identify as Muslims and often through a political lens," Alsary wrote in an email. "This type of perspective has great potential to strip the Muslim American narrative of nuance and even dehumanize Muslims in America. To work toward a more just and understanding society, we need to center the perspectives of those most affected by issues like Islamophobia. We need to highlight different backgrounds, histories and challenges of those individuals."

Doumbia said that when Noor was in college, civil rights organizations would come on campus and give presentations to students, but would not allow for students to share and discuss their feelings and what is happening.

"It kind of seemed like a novel idea to me…I never heard of civil rights organizations doing something like this, so that is what made it seem like an interesting and engaging idea," Rahman said.

Alasry summarized the main discussion points:

  • The Muslim community is not a monolith. There are Muslims of all different walks of life and different identities. We must consider these identities when discussing Islamophobia and the molds it takes.
  • Students, faculty and campus community members at institutions of higher learning are not immune to the effects of Islamophobia. Some of the greatest instances of microaggressions against Muslims occur within classrooms.
  • College and university administration has a moral responsibility to ensure the safety and protection of their students of all backgrounds. Administration must be vocal about not tolerating microaggressions by anyone against their students, including Muslims. Administrations should also work to provide spaces for their students to practice faith without fear of backlash, big or small.
  • It is not the responsibility of Muslim students on campus to prove their humanity or the humanity of their faith community.
  • In addition, each panelist shared experiences that they, or their family members, have had with Islamophobia.

    The discussion then switched to the University's responses to issues relating to Islamophobia. Everyone was in agreement that Wayne State has been more than welcoming to the Muslim student population. "When something big happens on the news, or when a huge deal is made about immigration that effects, triggers and traumatizes so many people…Wayne State is pretty quick to respond to these instances and it doesn't leave students to wonder where Wayne State stands," Rahman said.

    She add that she felt comfortable coming to Wayne State immediately following the past election results event though she felt uncertain on how President Trump's politics were going to affect Muslim students.

    "I think that feeling safe when you don't really feel safe is a really comforting feeling," she continued. "We pray in Purdy Kresge out in the open, and the fact that we are comfortable doing that says something about Wayne State. The fact that you walk into a classroom and see another hijab there and that is a regular occurrence, which (also) says something about Wayne State."

    "It's the small things," Doumbia added. "Not having the fear of praying on campus (post-election) as openly as we do, those are feelings that come about from something as seemingly small as an email or through OMSE (Office of Multicultural Student Engagement)."

    Doumbia said she was glad to participate on the event because it sort of serves as check-in to make sure that passive aggressive or micro aggressive incidents are being brought to light and are not being overlooked. She also hopes to put the event on again during the school week in order for more students to attend and begin to further discuss the topic.

    Alasry, Doumbia and Nushrat all agreed that being a part of the Honors College emboldened and empowered them to share their stories in order to help educate non-Muslim students.

    "I think that being in a classroom with so many different students who maybe have the same opinion as you or a different opinion as you really helps to kind of challenge certain notions that you have and you created without getting to know them," Doumbia said. "So being in a space where you have 4-5 Muslims in a discussion class and you are hearing their opinion and hearing them talk and saying "huh, that makes a lot of sense". There are themes that come out that help you connect with people. We are usually not granted a space to do that. I almost feel people come, do their own thing, and go home. I think Honors really forces people out of their comfort zone in that sense."

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