Support and advocacy organizations can take multiple forms for different communities. Muslim students can often face compound challenges due to the interactions of factors from multiple categories of marginalization. In addition to being a religious minority, with tremendous pressure to assimilate and conform from the surrounding majority, they also experience marginalization due to factors associated with racial and ethnic minority groups. In addition, many of the students can be from a variety of countries across the globe, with concerns about immigration status along with trying to make progress in their university studies. Combine all of this with recent historical events, including some people claiming to act illegally and immorally in the name of these groups, and the result is confusion among both the majority and minority group members.
In 2013, a doctoral student in counseling at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (Tanhan), a professor in public health education at the same university (Francisco), and the UNCG Muslim Student Association (MSA), partnered to identify and address issues affecting student achievement, satisfaction and well-being. To this end, the partnership implemented a concerns report process and PhotoVoice. Both processes are complimentary in that they are driven by the consumers themselves (the MSA), and serve to identify issues of concern that are social as well as structural (e.g. policy, practice and physical design). Community meetings served as an opportunity for the MSA and the broader UNCG community to discuss the findings of the processes, and discuss opportunities for improvement that would benefit everyone.
Outcomes of the process include policy and program change, as well as empowerment of students at UNCG who are of the Muslim faith. Several immediate changes at UNCG served to reinforce success in facilitating systems change. As a result of this process, and communications between Muslim students and the administration, several major things occurred:
The Muslim students are allowed to use a public mediation room in the student center for prayer.
UNCG now has a Chaplin from a local Mosque available for students on campus.
Watering cans are available in rest rooms to allow for ablutions prior to prayer.
The UNCG Police department is much more proactive in being available for security and protection of Muslim students and faculty.
Groups of different faiths are much more inclusive of each other in celebrations, advocacy and the promotion of understanding.
Many other significant changes occurred from this process. Having more regular (annual or biennial) community meetings serves to promote sustainability of the process and effects. The faculty members and administration of UNCG have become ongoing partners in the process of creating a more inclusive environment to promote student success and wellbeing, and create a climate of collaboration in systems improvement.
UNCG MSA Concerns Report Summary
Concerns Survey methodology on the Community Tool Box
PhotoVoice methodology on the Community Tool Box
Research Association of Muslims at UNCG Facebook Page