Meredith’s campus, while home to a prominent Christian community, is also home to a large population of Muslim students. These students have had to face discrimination and prejudice on campus for a long time, but recently more of these stories have been coming to light as a result of the @DearMereCo Instagram page. Islamophobia reached a new high following the 9/11 attacks, but much of the distrust and hostility toward Muslims can be attributed to a lack of understanding and implicit bias. According to the Pew Research Center, many Americans believe that Islam is an inherently peaceful religion; however, the acts of violence committed by extremist groups such as ISIS have created tension between Muslims and non-Muslims around the world. It should be noted that these acts are forbidden by the Qur’an and have no basis in the faith practiced by the more than 1.8 billion Muslims around the world.
According to its website, Meredith’s campus has promoted the inclusion and acceptance of its Muslim population in the past. In February 2017, the president of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), Eiman Ali, ‘17, organized a Green Out Day in solidarity with and in recognition of Muslim students. This event, spearheaded by MSA and with collaboration from the Black Student Union (BSU), Angelas Latinas and Better Together, enabled faculty, staff and students to join together to show support for the Muslim population at Meredith by wearing green, a symbolic color in the Islamic faith.
However, not all religion-based interactions on Meredith’s campus have been positive. The Meredith Herald recently interviewed several Muslim students on their experiences at Meredith. They requested that their names be omitted from this article for the sake of their privacy; they are denoted by class year, and those with the same class year have been denoted with an additional number for clarity.
The @DearMereCo Instagram page has brought attention to what Meredith students from the Muslim community have experienced. In regards to the posts, all of the students were saddened but not shocked to see one testimony outlining bad treatment of a Muslim student by a Religious and Ethical Studies (RES) professor. One student from the Class of 2023 stated, “I’m not surprised by how it was handled; my friend took the class and she said, with the professor she had, they barely talked about the ethics of religion. They mostly just talked about ethics in general. It was upsetting to see that some professors are so blatantly prejudiced; I think it truly speaks to what Meredith cares about.” This sentiment was shared among all the students interviewed. Student 1 from the Class of 2021 also voiced her opinion on the issues in the RES class: “There is a wider issue with the material being taught. I appreciate the outspoken students who are highlighting the overarching alienating and Orientalist experience that Muslim students have faced both in classrooms and on campus; however, the burden of the duty to provide a holistic education that uplifts more than just the 'traditional' Meredith student truly falls upon the College.” She went on to say that the best way of providing students with that holistic education would be “by hiring professors of color who specialize in these fields and [can] afford Islamic studies the nuances they deserve.”
Student 2 from the Class of 2021 recounted a particular experience that left a huge impact on her: “There was a Multicultural Panel happening at Meredith, and they wanted me to speak as a representative for those of Muslim and Arab culture. After the panel, one of the other panelists came up to me and said they should have chosen someone who wears a hijab to better represent the religion.” Experiences like these have left many of those interviewed feeling isolated and disconnected from Meredith’s community. Many of them have either been forced to create spaces for themselves on campus, or they have found communities elsewhere in Raleigh, at places such as the Islamic Association of Raleigh and NC State. A student from the Class of 2023 said, “I have mostly resorted to finding groups of other Muslims. I am a member of the MSA at Meredith and I attend MSA events at NC State.” In regards to finding spaces on campus, Student 1 from the Class of 2021 said, “It’s been exhausting...for me to have to create these resources for other Muslim students. There is a significant lack of resources, and it doesn’t seem like a priority of the college. We need tangible support for the Muslim students that is not spearheaded by other students, but rather by professionals who can provide specialized advice. Hiring a Muslim chaplain would be step in the [right] direction.” The students interviewed were all interested in seeing a shift in who and what is educating those on our campus about the religion of Islam.
The Herald also interviewed an incoming freshman about her concerns regarding attending Meredith. She asked not to be identified as she feared retaliation from peers and professors. Regarding the posts, she stated that she has been unsettled by what she has read: “I didn’t know how students of color were being treated at Meredith, so I was really shocked to see all these posts in regards to how Muslims were treated.” However, on the other hand, she also said she wasn’t very surprised, as there are so many misconceptions about Islam. The student was also asked about what she knew as an incoming freshman about the religious communities at Meredith, and she said, “From what I know, Meredith is predominantly Christian, [but] before the @DearMereCo post, I thought Meredith was diverse. Meredith led me to believe that even though it is a PWI [predominantly white institution] and most of the people there are Christian...I would still be welcome.” Being welcomed and accepted on campus is something she is not as sure of after seeing the Instagram posts. When asked about her fears about coming to Meredith, she stated that she worries that she will be judged based on her faith without being known as a person, and that many people will have “prejudgments about [her] religion,” which will hinder people from truly getting to know her. She said that she is used to being judged, however, due to wearing a hijab and being African and Muslim in the South. Coming to Meredith, she is also concerned about professors who are teaching with biases against Muslims, which they then could share with their students.
The Herald also spoke with a former Meredith student from the Class of 2023, who recently transferred to NC State, about her experiences at both schools. When asked about the posts online, she stated that she had similar experiences to them at Meredith and added, “I sent in a @DearMereCo post sharing my numerous Islamophobic and racist encounters with Meredith students and professors. Girls in my class would whisper the word ‘terrorist’ when talking about Islam and would show clear disinterest when it came to learning about a religion and culture other than their own.” She also shared that throughout her freshman year at Meredith, even though she joined several clubs and organizations and participated in events at both Meredith and NC State, it was still difficult for her to find her community at Meredith. While she “thought [she] would be attending an institution with open-minded people who wanted to learn and grow from each other…[she] was met with the complete opposite.” However, she said about her transfer, “I found an immense amount of diversity at NC State, where people welcomed me with open arms. I was surrounded by people just like me, making me feel safe.” After spending more time there, she found herself to be happier. “I never felt like this at Meredith, regardless of the ‘sisterhood’ they claim to have.”
Muslim students on Meredith’s campus want to feel welcomed, but their testimonies show they often feel the opposite. It is the duty of Meredith’s professors and staff to create an environment where all students regardless of race, gender or socio-economic background are afforded the same opportunities and treatment as their peers.
By Rachel Van Horne, News Editor