Students, faculty and staff filled Clark Lounge in the Campus Center on Wednesday afternoon for a discussion about how Islamophobia affects Muslims and people wrongly thought to be Muslims. The conversation, led by Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Rumit Singh Kakar and Kayla Wheeler, a diversity dissertation fellow in the Department of Philosophy and Religion, was part of the weekly Diversity and Inclusion Discussion Circle program.
“I think it’s important for people to recognize that diversity exists beyond race,” said Wheeler. She added that discussions like these can be helpful for people to confront misconceptions they have about other people and cultures.
Wheeler presented on the causes of Islamophobia and its history in the U.S., noting that it is a phenomenon with deep roots in American history. She explained that Islamophobia is experienced on several different levels, from government surveillance of mosques to workplace discrimination and portrayals of Muslims in the media. She also stressed that Islamophobia is an inherently anti-black ideology, pointing to the unique experience of black Muslims in America that began with the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Kakar’s presentation focused on how non-Muslims who read as Muslims are impacted by Islamophobia. He stated that, according to the FBI, reported anti-Muslim hate crimes increased by 1,600% in the year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and many of those targeted were Sikhs of Indian descent who were perceived to be Muslim. He noted that Simran Jeet Singh, a professor of Religion at Trinity University, says that some hate crimes are specifically directed against Sikhs precisely because of who they are and may very well be the product of direct bigotry and xenophobia.
Following the presentations, those in attendance asked questions on topics ranging from Sharia law, how Islam views other religions, and combatting hate speech.
Wheeler says that it is important for the discussion to lead to concrete actions.
“I hope people feel like they need to mobilize and do something,” said Wheeler. “We talked more about physical violence and that type of Islamophobia, but there are a lot of jokes that are made about Muslims and there are comments that go unchecked. I would encourage them to stand up and speak up for people.”
The Diversity and Inclusion Discussion Circle program is organized by the Division of Finance and Administration. Discussion circles occur every Wednesday at noon. Past topics have included diversity and inclusion in academic affairs and implicit biases. At the upcoming March 22 circle, Cornell Woodson ’09, associate director for diversity and inclusion at Cornell University, will lead a workshop on allyship.
The schedule of discussion circles can be found on the Events Calendar.