George Mason University

News at Mason

‘A lot of work to do’: Forum tackled religious discrimination in modern culture

December 10, 2018   /   by Buzz McClain

Students offered opinions, proposed ideas for solutions, and asked questions at last week’s religious discrimination forum. Photo by Buzz McClain, Schar School of Policy and Government.

A standing-room-only crowd of nearly 75 students, faculty members, and staff turned out on Dec. 6 at the HUB on George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus for a town hall conversation about religion in the crosshairs of contemporary culture, and what might be done to temper the volatile issue, particularly on university campuses.

The two-hour, cross-disciplinary forum was titled “Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Discrimination in the Name of Religion” and was hosted by the Middle East and Islamic Studies program at Mason.

“This is not a lecture, this is an open discussion,” said Bassam Haddad, a professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government and director of the sponsoring center, as he introduced the panel of two Mason deans and eight professors. “You are welcome to say whatever you like. Feel free to argue, but be respectful.”

Each of the deans and professors was allotted just two minutes to express their thoughts on the issues and what might be sensible steps in alleviating pressures that keep religious controversies in the headlines, including mass shootings in churches and synagogues and the normalization of white supremacy and nationalism around the world.

Opening remarks by Ann Ardis, dean of Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Mark J. Rozell, dean of the Schar School, were followed by comments from Maria Dakake, religious studies; Brian Platt, history and art history; Huseyin Yilmaz, director of Mason’s Center for Global Islamic Studies; Hatim El-Hibri, film and media studies; Lisa Breglia, global affairs; and Noura Erakat, School of Integrative Studies, who is also a human rights lawyer. 

From the audience, seated in a three-deep semi-circle, a student offered that discrimination is a response to an apparent “loss of culture.” Another suggested that knowing more about other cultures and religions paves the way to peaceful cohabitation. Another suggested that campus clubs should advertise their meetings to encourage participation by those not affiliated with their causes.

The takeaway of the forum, at least for some, was the need for more discussion.

“I wanted to hear from every group what their problem is in their communities,” computer science major Elham Abdurahman said after the program. “Everybody has a lot to say about religious discrimination and what we need to do is talk about it and discuss and find ways to solve this problem.”

Holden Spence, former student government executive secretary for diversity and multicultural affairs and a global affairs major, said there should be a sequel to the forum.

“We need to do it again,” he said, suggesting the next meeting be in a larger room. “There’s a lot of work to do still to do.”