On Wednesday, Feb. 17, during the lunch hour, students, faculty and staff gathered in Davis Court for a webinar on how colleges campuses can respond to Islamophobic behavior. The webinar was hosted by the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a nonprofit focused on religious pluralism which frames students as leaders and college campuses as models of interfaith cooperation.
Assistant Director of Campus Programs Suresh Mudragada and Assistant Director of the Lealtad-Suzuki Center Demetrius Colvin organized the event for the campus. Although The Mac Weekly wasn’t able to procure the number by print time, dozens of colleges and universities had representatives who were present online during the event. The webinar, which consisted in large part of a narrated slideshow presentation, opened with a listing of national data about acceptance and knowledge of Islam. This portion of the presentation was intended to highlight a lack of acceptance and gaps in knowledge across college campuses and was presented by the event host, IFYC’s Educational Resources Manager Carr Harkrader.
The microphone was then passed to Amina Azmat, a sophomore at Northeastern University and Vice President of the University’s Islamic Society, who recounted an incident of Islamophobic comments and threats on the society’s Facebook page following the Paris attacks. Karin Firoza, the Assistant Director at Northeastern’s Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service discussed the campus-wide dialogue that ensued at Northeastern as a result of collaborative effort between students, faculty and staff.
A presentation based on “tips from the field” followed the Northeastern case study, highlighting the anti-Islamophobia efforts occurring on various college campuses. In the presentation, Harkrader emphasized the necessity of campus context, allyship, the collection of data and personal stories, and immediate structural action.
Throughout the presentation, several poll questions were asked as part of the slideshow.
The first asked was, “What issues re[garding] Islamophobia or other biases are most pressing on your campus?” The options offered were 1) specific incidents on campus or in the community; 2) general tone or attitudes toward religious minority communities; 3) threats or acts of violence; and 4) reactions to national or international events. Participants at Macalester acknowledged both #2 and #4 as prevalent, but #2 ultimately won out.
About 10 minutes before the end of the event, Mudragada cut the presentation off and had attendees break into small discussion groups, asking them to focus on the structural roots of Islamophobia at Macalester and ways of combating it.
Several people expressed the feeling that issues related to Muslim identity and Islamophobia on Macalester’s campus are relegated to the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life (CRSL) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA), and relevant events are often sparsely attended by those who are not directly affected by those issues.
At the end of the event, Mudragada said that the webinar had provided mostly basic information, but that he was glad every attendance spot had filled for Macalester’s hosting of the webinar and that people were focusing on the issues at hand.
“Like combating any form of oppression, it’ll require active participation by everyone in the community,” Mudragada said in an email later. “Fear coupled with lack of understanding spreads Islamophobia. As the webinar mentioned, it’s important to educate (some schools do Islam 101 sessions) and provide spaces for dialogue and understanding. I also believe joining the Allies Project sponsored by the Department of Multicultural Life provides skills and knowledge in building a safer and supportive community for all identities.