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UT-Arlington Student Helps Foster Dialogue To Quell Hate Incidents

Nawal Rahman
Nashwa Zafar, 20, is a senior at the University of Texas at Arlington. As a board member of the Muslim Student Association, she's helping spark more conversations about diversity on campus.

Since the presidential election, incidents of hate have dominated headlines. Many of the incidents have been targeted at minority groups, but some have also been directed at Donald Trump supporters.

A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center reveals that nearly 900 incidents of hate have been reported since Election Day. Many of them have been in schools.

A Muslim student in North Texas is trying to help others who are worried about problems on campus.

Taking extra precautions on campus

Nashwa Zafar is a senior at the University of Texas at Arlington and on the board of the Muslim Student Association. She says Muslim students are worried and that Trump winning the presidential election has heightened their concerns.

“Some of the people had reached out to us on [Facebook] and they were asking, ‘Hey, I’m in the library. Can anybody walk me to my car?’ Just for, you know, safety reasons,” Zafar said.

Some Muslim students fear they’ll be targeted because of their religion or for wearing a hijab. At one point during his campaign, Trump said he supported a ban on Muslim immigration.

“A lot of people were joking, you know, ‘Oh, I’ll move to Canada. Oh, I guess I better go back to where I came from,’ ” Zafar said. “But, like, Muslim Americans that grew up here, going back to where we came from is not something that we can do because we are strangers over there just as strange as we are over here.”

Credit Nashwa Zafar
Nashwa Zafar
University of Texas at Arlington student Nashwa Zafar (second from left) rides on a float with friends during homecoming.

Raising awareness, sparking conversations

Zafar’s family is from Pakistan. She was born in Saudi Arabia.  She wears a hijab and said she understands when her friends talk about feeling different or afraid.

That’s where students group like the Muslim Student Association, or MSA, can play an important role, Zafar said. They help foster understanding, such as when the film "American Sniper" was shown on campus last year. She said some students were uncomfortable with how the movie depicts Muslims, so her group helped organized a panel discussion before the film. They discussed topics like Islamophobia and the war on terror.

“And I think that’s what MSA is trying to get at,” Zafar said. “We can’t take a political stance on anything, but we want to ensure that if there’s any concern that our members are facing. We can address them with Student Congress and bringing it up on campus as an issue.”

'I'm not going to tolerate that'

Zafar said her organization and several other student minority groups on campus have talked about working together more closely to create safe spaces where students on all sides can talk openly about these issues.

Raising awareness is key, said Dr. Summer Rose, a licensed psychologist at the Momentous Institute in Dallas. The school teaches students about their social and emotional health. She spoke on a recent episode of Think on KERA.

“For me, it’s really important for people who are in positions of power, who have privilege to speak up on behalf of those who don’t,” Rose said. “That’s the way I see change happening.”

Alia Salem, executive director of the local Council on American-Islamic Relations, says witnesses of hate, not just the victims, should speak up.

“I think it’s really important to tell people in those moments, in those immediate moments, stand up against what you hear that’s being perpetuated in your own circles,” Salem said. “Take it back to your community and say I’m not going to tolerate that.”

That’s the first step, she says, in changing the conversation from one of hate to hope.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.