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Friday, January 13, 2017

Student Opinion: Being Muslim At Minnesota

This historic election cycle has brought about tremendous changes in America’s social climate. For many, it has been easy to ignore the hate and fear that has developed out of the reactions to the presidential campaign, but for refugees, people of color, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community, ignoring the problem is not an option. Hateful messages from the president elect’s campaign and the subsequent responses of his followers has instilled fear into the hearts of many members of marginalized communities, not only throughout the country but also on campus at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Since the beginning of the presidential campaign, several events targeting Muslim students and students of color have occurred on campus. A few members of the Muslim community on campus shared their thoughts on current campus climate.

When prompted with the question, “how has the presidential campaign affected your life on and off campus?” Al-Madinah Cultural Center President ZamZam Yusuf responded saying “The day of the election my mom was telling me to watch out, say my prayers, don’t talk to anybody, and don’t tell anybody what you believe. But my mom doesn’t understand that I have no choice by the clothes I’m wearing and what I look like”. Many Muslim students share similar sentiment on campus, after several Islamaphobic events related to the presidential campaign surfaced on campus this semester. In November, an unidentified vandal painted the word “ISIS” over the Muslim Student Association’s panel on the Washington Ave Bridge. Events like this have created unease among many students belonging to various identities; refugee, Muslim, black, and LGBT, to name a few. Minority students on campus are not represented adequately within the University’s faculty and staff, and the University does not exceed or even meet expectations for protecting the diverse students it so claims to treasure.

When asked his opinion on how he thinks President Kaler and the university administration could do better in addressing acts of hate towards minority groups on campus, Carlson student and Al-Madinah Cultural Center Historian Khalid Hammami answered with “I go to a Diversity Forum for Muslim Student Association every 2 weeks, and they sent a representative [from Office for Equity and Diversity] which I think is a good first step, but I want them to show their involvement, and I want them specifically to come and listen in and either set up a meeting themselves [which I think is their duty to do so]; set up a meeting to say “hey students, we want to hear your input” and I know Kaler is a busy guy but we have some pressing issues”.

On the topic of making campus more inclusive, CLA student Shahd Abukhdeir made a excellent suggestion: “I think that they need to have workshops, honestly, to work with students of color or for people to teach students of color. I’ve been to panel discussions for incoming teachers with a panel of students of color where the teachers just asked us questions and all of us addressed the situation, and we also said that if there’s something going on in the Middle Eastern community for example, like don’t look to me to be an advocate for my entire community, because I can only speak for myself. But at the same time, don’t be scared to ask us questions. Just because you’re the teacher doesn’t mean you can’t be taught something”.

Promoting an atmosphere of more speech, like Kaler suggested, is exactly what this university needs: more speech centering minority students to educate everyone for the benefit of our campus as a whole.

~Written by Selma Demirovich, with contributions by ZamZam Yusuf, Khalid Hammami, and Shahd Abukhdeir.