SGA Seeks to Engage and Educate Students About Islamophobia
By Justin Wier
Student Government Association is holding a panel discussion titled “Fear and Muslims: Islam in Youngstown” at 4 p.m. tomorrow in DeBartolo Hall’s auditorium.
Michael Jerryson, associate professor in the department of philosophy and religious studies, will moderate a panel comprising Mustansir Mir, director of the Center for Islamic Studies, and three local Islamic leaders — Imam Walid Abusai of the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown, Khalid Iqbal of the Islamic Council of Ohio and Abdel Kader of the Islamic Council of Ohio and Masjid Al-Khar in Youngstown.
Jerryson said there will be individual discussion from each panelist, and what he hopes is a robust Q&A session following their remarks.
Gabriella Gessler, executive vice president of SGA, said the event was inspired by concerns SGA heard regarding the incident in which pro-ISIS sentiments were painted on the rock near Kilcawley Center.
Muslim students reported insecurities feeling like other students were uncomfortable or fearful around them following the incident.
“It’s important for students to see that there was a response in advancing security around campus,” Gessler said. “But … to provide more understanding within the atmosphere on campus there also needs to be an educational approach to that as well.”
Jerryson said he hopes the panel will address some of the underlying fears that exist on campus.
“I would implore people who are concerned to please come and attend and to ask questions,” Jerryson said. “If we can’t ask questions at the university, if we can’t voice our fears here — which I think is the safest place to do it — then where can we do it and develop?”
Gessler said she hoped it would provide an outlet for international students as well.
“We want to certainly reach out to those groups of students and reach out to international studies and make sure they understand that we are in support of them,” Gessler said. “We want to provide the most optimal experience for them that they could have at YSU.”
Jerryson said Islamophobia can be traced back to orientalist paintings that misrepresented the Middle East, and that misrepresentation has been caricatured by Hollywood.
“We’ve always had the Muslim being the bad person, the bomber, the suicide martyr,” Jerryson said. “Very rarely do we find the alternative, the Muslim hero.”
He said these portrayals have been exacerbated by events like 9/11 and the rise of ISIS, noting that the fears are not proportional to the risks. He noted that the number of US citizens harmed and killed by ISIS pales in comparison to the number harmed and killed by drinking and driving or texting and driving.
“Whenever we get more information, we can have a more educated and critical perspective on either side of or any part of the argument,” Jerryson said.
He also said he hoped the event would provide a greater awareness of the diversity that exists in the Mahoning Valley.
“Too often we are in our own groups, and we don’t become aware of these things,” Jerryson said. “I think the more we become aware of them, the more we become a whole community.”
The event is open to both the campus community and the public.