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Muslim Student Experiences of Anti-Muslim Racism: Stories From Elementary and Middle School

Thu, April 11, 9:00 to 10:30am, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Floor: Level 100, Room 110A


1. Purpose- Education research has long recognized the importance of examining marginalized student experiences as an indicator of equity, yet students marginalized by their faith identities remain underrepresented in equity-oriented research (Kinzie et al, 2021; Abo-Zena, 2011). Culturally responsive teaching and leadership practices suggest that educators should be responsive to the diverse identities represented in their school communities (Ladson-Billings, 2021), but we fail to generate sufficient research to support students marginalized by their faith identities. Muslim scholars are needed to examine Muslim student experiences to ensure that equity is being achieved and injustices are being disrupted.
2. Perspectives- We have sufficient evidence that describes bias, discrimination, and racist practices that target Muslims in larger American society (Beydoun, 2018). Muslim students are no different, but their experiences have not been included in equity-oriented research to ensure that culturally responsive education practices foster their belongingness and student achievement. The Institute of Social Policy and Understanding’s Muslim poll documented high rates of bullying faced by Muslim students, most incidents stemming from teachers or school administrators (ISPU, 2020). Schools cannot achieve equity in the presence of injustice, and students cannot experience culturally responsive education if their identities are neither recognized nor understood by their educators.
3. Modes of Inquiry- Early school moments help shape the expressions of Muslim student identities. Less is documented in education research on the school experiences of preadolescent children, particularly Muslim students. In my former public school classrooms, I observed the interactions of young Muslim students with their peers and teachers and became aware of the concessions and compromises made by younger students to experience belonging and acceptance, often by sacrificing the expressions of their Muslim identities and practices.
4. Data sources- As part of a larger study of Muslim experiences in public schools, this study sought to represent the lived experiences of students navigating elementary and middle school. Using narrative analysis, I conducted 15 semi-structured interviews of Muslim students (between 2019-2021) describing how their Muslim identities impacted their earliest years in public school. Data was analyzed using the tenets of MusCrit to position the experiences of Muslim children in context with dominant narratives of preadolescent youth while amplifying the voices of young children in equity-centered research to construct counter narratives.
5. Results- Findings indicated that our youngest Muslim students experience anti-Muslim racism in school. Although students’ earliest years are meant to be times for friendship and play to foster love of learning, these students describe facing injustices and inequities that restricted academic achievement and social engagement. Some narrate stories of exclusionary behaviors, and others describe a lack of culturally responsive practices that isolated them. But, facing anti-Muslim racism, some of these young students demonstrated an early capacity to disrupt interpersonal bias and discrimination, express faith identities, and find community with others.
6. Scholarly Significance- Equity-oriented research needs to make space for the voices of students’ lived experiences in schools, particularly our youngest learners whose identities continue to be marginalized and underrepresented in narratives of culturally responsive education practices.