After conducting a study on attitudes towards Muslim students on campus, an alumna found evidence that the majority of UTD students view Muslims in a positive light.
The study, conducted by alumna Faraha Hasan, explored the explicit and implicit attitudes toward Muslims from other Muslim and non-Muslim students through several questionnaires for her senior thesis project.
After predicting that the results would render positive explicit attitudes and negative implicit titudes, Hasan said she was surprised to find that the implicit attitudes measured tended to be more neutral and positive. While it contradicted her hypothesis, Hasan said her experience on campus agrees with the findings of her study.
“I don’t really know what it’s like to be truly discriminated against. That hasn’t been my experience here as it has been to other people I know on other campuses,” she said.
The sample consisted of 380 participants and ranged from associating positive and negative words with Muslims and non-Muslim names to filling in sentences such as “Muslims are ___ and Islam is ___.”
“It was emotional to see other people’s support,” Hasan said. “Most people (in the study) said ‘they are just human beings’ or they would mention they are stigmatized and discriminated against. That was one thing I noticed that there was recognition and not seeing people as Muslim, but as other people.”
According to a Pew study, even though the majority of the country holds negative implicit biases toward Muslims, 57 percent of Americans believe there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S. today.
The significance of the findings reveal that while bias still exists at UTD, it is to a lesser degree because of the diversity and intergroup contact, Hasan said.
While results are overwhelmingly positive for UTD, the same cannot be said for the nation as a whole. In a study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2015, about one-half of Americans thought at least some U.S. Muslims were anti-American.
Senior biology major Sarah Shaikh, the vice president of the Muslim Student Association, said she attributes the disconnect to the fact that the campus is diverse and provides an opportunity for its students to appreciate different cultures; an opportunity other universities do not have.
“We’ve seen that the general perception is not very good,” Shaikh said. “The perception is that Muslim-Americans are not necessarily as American as everyone else or that our faith doesn’t align with American values, and a lot of that comes from not understanding what Muslim faith and values are.”
Shaikh also said disfavor and bias continue to exist not only in America but at UTD as well, rendering the dilemma far from over.
“Growing up in Texas, I know people personally who have been affected by discrimination,” Shaikh said. “As a group on campus, even small things happen like where people wrote ‘terrorist’ on our board, or how someone tried to flush two Qurans in the Student Union, but it comes with being a minority in a state where … the general political opinion is not so positive.”
As a Muslim student, junior healthcare studies major Ifra Ali said a possible explanation for the constructive attitudes toward Muslim students at UTD could be the high level of interaction with these students. In a 2015 study conducted by Pew Research Center, only 48 percent of U.S. Muslims say all or most of their close friends are also Muslims.
“Most of the time when you have negative attitudes it’s because you don’t know anyone of that religion,” Ali said. “If you know someone who’s Muslim, it is much harder to have a negative feeling towards them. They aren’t terrorists, just normal college students.”
As the results were from a sample of participants mainly from the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Hasan said the results would vary if conducted at another school or with a bigger sample size, but that there are benefits of the UTD findings, such as acceptance from peers.
“If non-Muslims are neutral implicitly and positive explicitly, then Muslims on campus probably don’t feel stigmatized here —which I usually don’t– or they aren’t developing the negative stereotype and taking it in from the media,” Hasan said.
Rather than assign blame for the negative attitude towards Muslim-Americans adopted by the public as a whole, Sarah Shaikh said the solution to the problem is simple and only takes patience and understanding.
“I think we hold part of the burden, as well as the public, which is to form an opinion based off of being educated as well as do our part on educating,” she said. “We have the ability to have those things accessible to us, and that makes people inherently become more open to different thoughts and opinions.”