Laurier celebrates Islamic Heritage Month to foster an inclusive campus for Muslim students

Photo by Darien Funk

Wilfrid Laurier University has held multiple events this month to highlight and honour Muslim people on campus during Canadian Islamic History Month.

“It is a great opportunity and it is creating and fostering an inclusive campus for students, faculty and staff members,” Selda Sezen, faculty and Muslim Chaplin at Laurier said. 

“I believe that inclusiveness and recognizing diversity makes a huge difference in the life of the Muslim community on campus.”

She said that this also gives a chance for the larger community to understand and connect together so that everyone can coexist with each other. 

Sezen explained that the large and diverse Laurier Muslim community includes people from different historical, ethnic, cultural and language backgrounds, and encompasses different sectors or denominations of Islam.

This means that there are layers to being Muslim on campus: trying to fit within the Muslim community, which requires intrafaith, while also connecting with the larger and multi-faith community, which requires interfaith dialogue.

One of the events that Sezen presented this month was the “Understanding and Dismantling Islamophobia in Classroom and Research Settings” workshop which covered the impacts of Islamophobia on Muslims at Laurier.

“Islamophobia has a significant impact on students, faculty and staff members’ experiences on campus, including their mental health, social wellness, campus involvement and also the academic performance of our community members,” she said.

The majority of students on campus are between the ages of 18 and 25, which is an important age for development; Sezen said that Islamophobia affects the development of their identity during this time.

All those impacts [of Islamophobia] on the personal level, on sense of self, and on social wellness have a huge impact on academic performance and success.

Selda Sezen, faculty and Muslim Chaplin at Laurier

“When they have experienced Islamophobic sentiments, anti-Muslim sentiments, bigotry, or day-by-day microaggressions, it affects their understanding of their self-awareness and self-identity, so their self-value, self-validation, self-confidence and self-esteem are impacted through that. They lose their connection with themselves and get a distorted understanding of self,” she said.

Visual minorities, such as those who wear a headscarf, struggle to find their sense of self and individuality because they are seen as representors of Islam on campus, which puts great pressure on them and leads to isolation and loneliness.

These issues with one’s self have negative effects on all aspects of life including social, emotional, and academic wellness. 

“It has a domino effect, so you start losing your connection with yourself and your connection with your community.”

Islamophobia may lead to depression, anxiety, mood changes, sleep disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, or stress-related disorders. 

“[It can trigger] prefrontal cortex functioning issues where you have difficulty to concentrate, difficulty to understand, and it may even trigger some learning disabilities,” Sezen explained.

The resulting emotional instability and insecurity can trigger existing traumas or adverse childhood experiences.

She said that anti-Muslim sentiments lead to loss of control over your relationships with others.

“This feeling of being out of control pushes you to be dominant in the areas that you are in control of, so it triggers some obsessive-compulsive disorders,” she said.

“All those impacts [of Islamophobia] on the personal level, on sense of self, and on social wellness have a huge impact on academic performance and success.”

A negative sense of self leads to a doubt and loss of control over goals that decreases interest in academic work and increases anxiety.

Sezen said that witnessing hate crimes in Ontario, such as the London attack in the summer, can harm the sense of security and belonging for Muslim students.

“Having a supportive, welcoming and responsive community at Laurier that supports Laurier members, students, staff and faculty members, shows solidarity, shows that [Muslims] are important community members, and shows love and peace,” Sezen said.

Tokenism should also be recognized and avoided on campus. Sezen said that the symbolic inclusion of Muslims in pictures for the university has surface level importance, and a focus on inclusion on a functional level benefits the community better.

“Peer support, mentorship and safe or brave spaces for collective healings on campus are opportunities that will help students who have experienced Islamophobic sentiments in their daily lives on campus,” Sezen said. 

She highlighted the importance of faith-centred knowledge for engagement in research and study areas, having a holistic approach to validate the notions of community, and avoiding a single-minded worldview about Muslims.

“Faculty and staff members’ role starts here: to recognize the symptoms, to recognize the impact of Islamophobic sentiments on the Muslim community on campus, and take opportunity of Islamic Heritage Month to welcome, understand, and support these community members and meet their needs to have a better, peaceful campus and create a healthy living environment.”

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