International Week at Seattle University not only celebrates the diversity of the Seattle University campus—it also explores darker sociocultural issues.
Real Talk: Islamophobia, a session hosted on Wednesday, Jan. 27, was the first of many events to celebrate International Week at Seattle University.
Students, faculty and administrators came together in the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) to initiate a dialogue surrounding the stigma and prejudice directed towards Islam and Muslims. The talk, sponsored by OMA and the International Student Center (ISC), addressed a sensitive issue that many people currently face on campus and around the world.
Director of OMA Czarina Ramsay said the purpose of the talk was to address the problem as it relates to Seattle U’s campus community.
“We feel like it’s important to invite learning and some of that starts with having conversations,” Ramsay said. “Typically these issues are those that are showing up in global, national and local discourse and we felt like it was important to have time dedicated on campus for our community to be a part of that—and have not just conversations, but reflect upon the issues as they relate on us as an individual, as a group and as an institution.”
Ramsay emphasized the importance of students taking the initiative, and why they should take it. The Seattle U mission, as Ramsay pointed out, states that the institution is dedicated to educating the whole person and helping empower leaders to create a just and humane world. The talk session aimed to empower students to begin to educate themselves on the topic and to start taking action, as remaining unaware could ultimately cause more damage to the Muslim community at Seattle U.
“[This event] gives us the chance to share, personally, how we are experiencing various parts of our lives and to do it in a space where you’re having interaction with faculty, staff and students, wrestling with the topic or being exposed to the topic from the veering perspective of the folks in the room,” Ramsay said. “I think that helps people get ready to live out the mission, but to do it in a way that they’re not perpetuating those biases, those prejudices [and] those systems that allow for hateful things to occur.”
Ashton Corson, a senior women and gender studies and international studies major and a member of the Muslim Student Association at Seattle U, explained the importance of students becoming allies to the Muslim community.
“I think that there’s a certain amount of not realizing the gravity of the situation,” Corson said. “In the Seattle area, there are actually people who hate Muslims… Islamophobia is not just being yelled at on the street to go back to your country—it can also be things such as expecting a Muslim student in your class to speak for all Muslims, or being scared to sit by a Muslim on the bus. Smaller things that are a part of this bigger picture of what Islamophobia is and what it looks like.”
In 2015, Seattle faced tragedy when a student attending Seattle Central College died from injuries resulting from falling off a roof on Capitol Hill. The student’s death was suspected to be the result of a Muslim hate crime inflicted by a Caucasian student.
Islamophobia also exists on the national scale. In 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a report on how the FBI’s hate crime statistics dropped last year in every crime category except in Anti-Muslims sector, which rose over 14 percent and is still on the rise.
Islamophobia has created a tense and unsafe environment for the Muslim community. Director of ISC Ryan Greene said that Islamophobia does not seem to be a problem among Seattle U students.
“Based on my six years in working here with students pretty closely, I don’t think it’s a problem here on campus, specifically,” Greene said. “At the same time, I do think it’s a problem in our larger U.S. society, and we’re a campus in the middle of a much larger city, so I do know students have specifically told me that they’re nervous to leave their apartments at night. I’ve heard that directly from our students that live off campus.”
According to Greene, Islamophobia can be combatted on Seattle U’s campus. By attending talks and attending events meant to help educate and promote advocacy, being an active member within the university community can ultimately result in a positive long-term outcome.
“Every single person that leaves these programs…I hope leaves as someone who can speak directly to why Islamophobia is bad and how important it is to provide verbal, physical support for students,” Greene said.
Students, faculty and staff are invited to attend a second Islamophobia talk session on Wednesday, Feb. 10 from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. in the ISC Lounge.
Shelby may be reached at [email protected]