“The first problem we face is the problem of justice.” Visiting international relations professor Nayma Qayum delivered this line during a profound presentation at the Chapel Hill Shootings and Islamophobia discussion organized by Geneseo Social Justice Clubs and Muslim Student Association. The discussion was put together following the tragic homicide of three prominent students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “It was an urgent type of discussion that needed to happen,” senior and MSA president Nadia Abdulwahab said. The discussion was very efficiently organized by the members of a variety of cultural groups on campus.
The discussion itself was held in a classroom in Bailey Hall in the form of a round table conversation. It focused on the events at Chapel Hill, North Carolina and what they signified about Islamophobia in the United States with the intention of raising awareness and breaking down stereotypes.
Qayum shared her story of being a college student during the Sept. 11 attacks––a time of rampant Islamophobia––which students continue to experience today as the war in the Middle East drags on and new factors such as ISIS continue to be added to the conflict.
The theme of the talk, however, was peace and awareness. Students supported each other and Muslim students in attendance shared personal stories of Islamophobia they experienced in their lives, both on and off campus.
MSA member senior Ramsha Ansari delivered a particularly profound speech. “I’m a senior psych major, [a resident assistant] … and I’m a terrorist,” she said. Ansari and other students at the discussion, shared stories about their experiences of receiving degrading comments and accusations, and how the situations made them feel.
“We have a pretty tight Muslim community, so I never feel alone,” MSA vice president senior Osman Choudhry said. Both Choudhry and Abdulwahab noted, however, the amount of non-Muslim students who attended the discussion.
“I didn’t think people would come out like that and actually care,” Abdulwahab said. This could partially be due to the dismal media attention the Chapel Hill shooting received—most students in attendance reported finding out about the incident through social media because major news outlets remained silent on the topic.
Combined with a swell of anti-Muslim hate thanks to popular culture such as the movie American Sniper and the hashtag #KillAllMuslims, the lack of media attention this received is enough to justify any Muslim feeling unsettled.
Abdulwahab and Choudhry agreed that awareness and outreach is the only solution to these serious issues. Abdulwahab specifically advocated for “spread[ing] what Islam is, which is peace.” Qayum also added in her presentation, “There is nothing Islamic about violence.”
It is important for students to leave their comfort zone and meet other people, and to take a stand against Islamophobia in any form. Even if someone is making what sounds like a harmless joke, refusing to laugh can make a large impact on whomever you are conversing with.
The best takeaway from this event is summarized in Qayum’s concluding words: “I would ask you to be brave and to be active … and to build bridges across communities and to converse.”