“Muslim Students Feel Intimidated” according to UC Climate Survey

By: Maha Kamel

Students across University of California campuses enter college with hopes of starting one of the most important chapters in their lives, ready to not only receive a quality education but participate in University life and culture. For some, UC campus life serves as a crucial opportunity for students to find their roles as informed citizens. From participating in religious groups such as Muslim Students Unions to finding their political and cultural voices through other means, students use the resources available to them as a guide in expressing who they are and what they believe in. Hence assuring a safe and beneficial environment to each student serves as a top priority for campus officials.

With this in mind, University of California president Mark Yudof called to establish the UC Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion two years ago. The board was created in response to a variety of incidents on UC campuses and is aimed at addressing challenges in enhancing and sustaining a tolerant, inclusive environment on each of the university’s 10 campuses. The council is composed of thirty members including UC professors and community members representing various demographic groups such as: the California NAACP, Skirball Cultural Center, the Four Freedoms Fund, the director of the Latino Center for Medical Education and Research, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Islamic Center’s Jihad Turk.

The “Irvine 11” incident occurring in February 2010 highlighted the topic in which a lot of pressure steamed. The event beckoned a call to evaluate climate among UC campuses specifically targeting Muslim, Arab, and Jewish students and their sentiments.

In October 2012 a team was commissioned featuring Jihad Turk, Nan Sankazi, Tyrone Howard and Armaan Rowther. The team was established to be sent to several UC campuses to meet with members of the Muslim, Palestinian, and Arab communities and to gain insight into effective initiatives on UC campuses and what steps we need to take to make our campuses more inclusive and welcoming. A team was also created to survey and evaluate Jewish students and professors to get an accurate sense of their perception on the topic. A full copy of the report can be found on the UC website.

The council aimed at the Muslim and Arab students was led by Jihad Turk and his team. They visited six UC campuses and met with students and faculty on the issue.  During the course of campus visits, students expressed appreciation for the effort to “finally” create a space for the Muslim and Arab communities to voice their concerns at UC, particularly as they self-identify as a community that is marginalized and not often heard. Guided also by a 2012 Muslim Public Affairs Council survey conducted across UC campuses the team hoped to generate an overall impression from UC students and create recommendations for the UC board concerning students anguish.

According to the 2012 survey administered by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) of 136 Muslim and Arab students on UC campuses, found that 76% of respondents had seen or observed intimidation taking place on campus.  However, 80% indicated they feel safe and welcome on campus “most of the time” or “all of the time.” Many of these students felt that when they reported intimidation to administration officials, they either did not know how to handle the situation or nothing happened. Intimidation toward Muslims occurred in the form of:

  • pictures of Muslim student group members distributed on campus that implied they supported terrorism
  • student groups were heckled, called terrorists and
  • students groups were plagued with obscene and racists comments on their websites

A majority of the more than 100 students who completed the survey said they felt the school administration did nothing when an incident was reported. The survey found that 71 percent of the respondents didn’t feel the UC system proactively counters Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment on campus.

Many students cited an email from UC President Mark Yudof that was sent to the entire UC student body which said the UC’s do not tolerate anti-Semitism without making any similar zero-tolerance policy toward Islamophobia or anti-Arab sentiment. Students felt that this showed the need for more engagement between students and the administration.

When asked about the student’s feelings toward the “Irvine 11” ordeal, students were noted as being aware of the consequences and worked to modify practices and strategies. The team also noted a chilling affect among students because of the sense of the UC administration with suspension of the UC Irvine’s Muslim Student Union. Further in a general trend of the report students reported feeling under greater scrutiny and a “double standard” when it came to participating in more geo political issues such as the “Palestinian awareness week” which takes place across UC campuses in May. The great thing about the report is not only did the team track student’s feelings about their campus but thoroughly provided recommendations for UC staff in helping resolve the issue. For example with students feelings toward “the double standard” in campus event rules It was the “Team’s impression that administrators should engage with existing student leadership and efforts without bias from past grievance or incidents when encountering annual programs or events’

So what do we do now?

After going through the lengthy report you are left feeling sympathetic to the students body’s feelings weather a UC student or not. Sabreen Shalabi, a UC Irvine student who spoke during the advisory council meeting stated “I think it’s really important that some sort of action come out of this report”. Similarly many hope that all of the dear efforts of the council’s team come to good use in improving the issues. And with delight we heard back from Jihad Turk that he has been asked to serve on a committee that would follow through on addressing adjusting the rules and regulations among UC campuses.

Hope for tomorrow:

The twenty five page report represents more than numbers and statistics about the UC campus climate for Muslim and Arab students, it represents a hope and optimism in students in what the report might bring.  It is important to recognize the overall premise of the report and the hope and optimism it conveys.  Further it is important to appreciate UC president Mark Yudof’s efforts in being inclusive of Muslim and Arab students and include a Muslim voice on the council in hopes of creating a better overall atmosphere for students.

In order for all students to feel safe and equal, students felt hate speech in the form of bigotry should be taken seriously by the administration. Even though college is about exploring, learning and understanding freedom of speech and expression, it should be done with moderation and with respect to all students, regardless of differences.


Maha Kamel is a the President of the Muslim Youth Group of the ICSC. Before her election in the role of MYG President, she served as its Social Director and the President of her Muslim Student Association.

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