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Opening Up Dialogues

UMD student panel
May 22, 2017

Students work to eliminate Islamophobia on campus and in the community.

Azrin Awal, co-chair of UMD’s Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), smiles as she sees the ballroom filling up. She flutters around, hugging people, welcoming them into the event. Last year, Awal, a junior majoring in public health promotion and education in the College of Education and Human Service Professions, hosted an Islamophobia panel, but this event is on a larger scale.

“This year, I said we need to open up the panel more, broaden our audience, and have more people come in,” said Awal. The panel was sponsored by MPIRG and UMD’s Muslim Student Association, which works to bring awareness about Islam to the student body and the wider community.

Students, faculty, and staff of all backgrounds came to learn about how important it is to create interfaith dialogue. Local news channels were present recording the event.

The Islamophobia panel was comprised of Muslim students discussing misconceptions about Islam and sharing their personal stories.

This was followed up by an interfaith panel, with students of Jewish, Islamic, Christian, and agnostic beliefs sharing their thoughts on why opening up the conversation is crucial at this time in our society.

Insight from those who were there
Iman Geleto volunteered to be a panelist because she “wanted to inform students here on campus about how important it is that we are aware of each other’s differences in a respectful matter.” She found the questions to be very sincere and the audience members to be very thoughtful.

Geleto, a sophomore majoring in finance and communication, is active in the Multicultural Center (MC) and enjoys spending her time at various on-campus events the MC holds.

She emphasizes that this panel is crucial since the November 2016 elections. “Islamophobia is a growing issue in America,” Geleto said.

Like many young American Muslims, she wants to change the narrative, “I want everyone to know that Islam is a religion of peace, and Muslims do not condone violence, terrorism, or anything negative that is heard through the media.”

Her only qualm about the panel was that more question and answer time should have been provided. “it seemed like we rushed the Q & A section, since we ran out of time. I think it’s important to address people’s questions” she said.

Dawn Stevenson, an interpreter at UMD, was glad she came to the Islamophobia panel, “I wanted to learn more about the students, faculty, and staff for whom Islam is a part of their religious upbringing and background.”

Stevenson added, “We are all here to get an education and better ourselves; we all believe in the peace of our religion rather than the funky media attention given to various faiths.”

Going forward
Awal looks forward to a day when panels like this aren’t necessary. Until that day comes, she will continue to work to present information that educates the campus and the wider community about Islam. 

“I strongly believe that education and dialogue is the key to a more inclusive world. If we could take the time to listen to the stories around us, not the information we hear over the media that we sometimes believe without question, we would see that there are many more similarities than differences.”

About the Organizations
The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) is a grassroots, non-partisan, nonprofit, student-directed organization that teaches and inspires students and captivates the community to take action throughout the state of Minnesota. MPIRG holds various events on campus that promote advocacy and making a change for the better.

The Muslim Student Association (MSA) is a religious and social student organization that seeks to network the Muslim students on campus and serve as their voice in the community. MSA also reaches out to the student body to bring awareness about Islam and to promote tolerance towards Muslims, and works with other organizations to bring positive change within the UMD campus.

Top image: UMD students Iman Geleto (left) and Azrin Awal take part in an Islamophobia panel discussion.