January 15, 2020
In 2015, a survey from the Council on American-Islamic Relations showed that 55% of Muslim students in California reported being bullied because of their religion. Advocates now expect anti-Muslim bullying to surge, following the further disintegration of U.S.-Iran relations in recent days. In response, Teaching Tolerance shared strategies for addressing Islamophobia in schools. One such strategy? Promote religious diversity.
School administrators can update school guidelines and professional development programming to address religious diversity and anti-Muslim bullying directly. Teachers of any subject can update their curricula, too. (For instance, “math teachers can share the formative role of Islamic scholars in the development of algebra.”) Teachers can also learn more about different religions, which may reduce their chances of sending microaggressions. Religious literacy will also help teachers communicate “that they are allies of all students and are ready to offer support.”
The benefits of promoting religious diversity expand beyond the classroom. School administrators found that when they included books on Islam in the school library, Muslim students, their siblings, and even their parents became more engaged in the school community. It’s not hard to imagine that similar steps on campuses and in workplaces could also have an inclusive effect community-wide.
In addition to the steps outlined above, Teaching Tolerance emphasizes that a potent way to expel Islamophobia is to increase teachers’ and students’ “exposure to the lived experiences of American Muslims.” Examples include inviting guest speakers, holding interfaith panels, and sharing media like this video on what it’s like to be a Muslim student.
When Johns Hopkins University dropped their legacy preference from their admissions policy a few years ago, they also opted to recruit more students from modest economic backgrounds. The result? Hopkins was able to “build a more diverse student body,” according to university officials. Now, 19% of Hopkins students are eligible for the Pell grant, compared to just 9% in 2009.
However, other prestigious universities like Harvard and Brown staunchly stand by their use of the legacy preference. Those in favor of the admissions practice cite its ability to raise money and strengthen alumni networks. In contrast, Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels says: “To reward applicants for the accident of a familial connection is deeply perplexing given the country’s deep commitments to merit and equal opportunity.”
We’re impressed that Hopkins has abandoned the legacy preference. The school also takes inclusivity a step further by offering full, loan-free financial aid packages to those in need. It’s heartening to see more and more universities commit to boosting socioeconomic diversity, not least of all because of its benefits to the student body.
Daniels makes an excellent point when he says that since children of alumni often come from wealthy families, it’s “unnecessary to give those applicants another edge in a highly competitive process.” Are there policies in place that give people with privilege “another edge” in your institution or organization? If so, how can you redistribute those advantages to those with less privilege?
A group of trans advocates recently asked Procter & Gamble’s Always brand to remove the Venus symbol from their menstrual product packaging. The Venus symbol is often used to represent the female sex, but trans advocates explain that “not all transgender men transition medically or surgically to the point where they stop having their periods.”
Procter & Gamble had no problem agreeing to remove the symbol, but some groups spoke out against the decision, arguing that it would erase cisgender women’s biology. James Finn, a writer and LGBTQ activist, responded to the pushback, saying that, “No cis women are harmed because some trans men menstruate.”
The Venus symbol can spark feelings of dysphoria or trauma for trans men and non-binary people purchasing pads and tampons. Removing the symbol can be considered a microaffirmation, or a small act of kindness, that lets “trans men and non-binary people know that we see them and value them.”
Another possible microaffirmation is removing language from public bathrooms that refers to menstrual products as “feminine hygiene products.” Describing menstrual products as “feminine” can alienate trans men and non-binary people, as well as trans and cis women who don’t get periods.
It also implies menstruation is too dirty or shameful to be referred to without euphemisms, and falsely equates the biological process of menstruation with feminine gender expression. As one advocate put it, “‘Menstrual products’ works! Menstruation is literally what the products are for.”