CSAHS Collaborates with Students to Address Islamophobia in the Classroom
On October 5, University of Guelph faculty, staff and students gathered to celebrate Islamic Heritage Month by learning how to create a welcoming classroom environment for Muslim students.
“The Muslim student population on campus is growing—we have around 1,000 Muslims on campus now—so it’s more important than ever to make sure they feel welcomed and accepted,” said Ahmad Hassan, VP of External Affairs for the Guelph Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) and fourth year Molecular Biology and Genetics student. “We want to help faculty and staff understand a bit more about Muslim students to counteract the public narrative about Muslims and show that our faith isn’t to be feared, but often contributes something beautiful to our communities.”
To achieve this vision, the Guelph MSA and College of Social and Applied Human Sciences (CSAHS) teamed up to offer the workshop Addressing Islamophobia in the Classroom: Improving the Student Experience. “We heard from students that they see the need to approach anti-racism work in a way that recognizes how racism manifests differently for different identity groups. We reached out to cultural groups on campus to start brainstorming ways to work together, and that’s how this partnership for co-hosting this event came about,” said Samantha Blostein, Global Engagement Specialist.
Facilitating the workshop was Jannat Firdous, Education Coordinator from the National Council of Canadian Muslims, an independent, non-partisan and non-profit organization that advocates for civil liberties for Canadian Muslims and supports Muslim student groups across Canada. "It’s exciting to see this collaboration between staff and students on the U of G campus to do this important work – the NCCM Education Department was pleased to facilitate the workshop and be a part of it,” said Jannat.
At the workshop, attendees debunked common myths about Islam and Muslims, learned about the impact negative stereotypes and discourse can have on Muslim students and received resources and advice on how to create a safe and inclusive classroom and campus environment. Participants appreciated having the space to talk about the issues publicly with members of the U of G community and achieved a better understanding of the complexity of Islamophobia and its intersections with racism and misogyny.
One exercise attendees found particularly valuable was the use of case studies that examined how institutions and individuals could respond in scenarios where Islamophobia occurs. “I appreciated that the presentation was grounded in the Canadian context and the case studies were examples of situations that could easily occur at U of G,” noted one participant.
After attending the workshop, Ahmad hopes that participants walk away with a better understanding of Muslim students and new insight into how to support them. “If a staff member learns how to be accommodating to Muslim students in a new way or chooses to integrate Islamic history or contributions Muslims have made to research and society, then we’ve taken a step towards making our campus a more welcoming place,” said Ahmad.
Many Muslim student associations were formed to advocate for accommdations around religious practices and can help members of the campus community create a welcoming environment. Overall, the MSA emphasizes that if faculty, staff, or any member of the university community is uncertain about how to best accommodate Muslim students or make them feel welcome in the classroom, it's best to simply ask a student or colleague for clarification rather than make an assumption about a person or their beliefs.
This workshop is part of CSAHS’s ongoing efforts to support student cultural groups and improve equity, diversity and inclusion on campus. To learn about future events hosted by CSAHS, follow the college on Instagram @CSAHS_UOG or view upcoming events on the college website.
The Guelph MSA is student led volunteer group that represents all Muslims at the University of Guelph and hosts a variety of religious and social events as well as advocacy efforts throughout the year. Students interested in getting involved can follow them on Instagram @GuelphMSA or visit the U of G MSA website.