‘Instead of Calling Them Out, Call Them In’

EWU Confronts Islamophobia

By Emily Guidinger Hunt, Contributing Writer

EWU’s second Dialogues on Diversity installment came just hours after President Trump announced the implementation of a revised travel ban that suspends admission into the U.S. for all travelers from six Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, unless they already have green cards or visas.

The timing of the president’s announcement coincidentally aligned with the topic of Monday’s dialogue at EWU, Islamophobia.

Almalki, a mechanical engineering student from Saudi Arabia, carefully considered his answers to uncomfortable, and often challenging, questions from the audience about what it truly means to live a Muslim life.

“As a people, in Saudi Arabia, we don’t like people to get into our business, so we try to do the same and not get into other societies business,” said Almalki. “But if I see it as the Muslim students do, I would say it’s a fear sometimes to show your identity.”

Almalki collaborated with his fellow panel member Skyler Oberst, an EWU alum and current president of the Interfaith Council of Spokane, to advise the community on what they can do to raise awareness surrounding the sensitive issue of Islamophobia.

“We’ve found that many people are interested in meeting their Muslim neighbors in the Inland Northwest,” said Oberst. “That’s part of the reason why we [made a video to] show people how to visit a mosque, and to visit different houses of worship and learn about other cultures.”

Almalki, a member of the Saudi Club on campus, spoke about the prejudice he and his friends have encountered in the U.S.

“You might feel it sometimes in a way that’s not directed toward you in words, but you might feel it as a look, or as an act to avoid you in some places,” Almalki said.

Almalki said the issues Muslim students face on campus may not be flagrant acts of violence, but they are still struggling to find their place at EWU.

Both Oberst and Almalki described scenarios in recent years where Muslim students had nowhere to meet for their congregational Friday prayer, called Jumu’ah. Just like the religions of Catholicism and Christianity, Muslim prayer has its unique tenets; most importantly, it must be conducted in a clean environment, free from impurities.

Ultimately, Muslim students were allotted a regular space to conduct Jumu’ah, but the space, with dirty carpet and noisy activity, was hardly an adequate environment for quiet, contemplative prayer, Almalki said.

Despite the efforts of EWU to fulfill the needs of the varied religions and customs of its student body, the Muslim tradition of Jumu’ah is still lacking appropriate accommodation, said Almalki. That is why Almalki and Oberst agreed to speak on behalf of the Islamic community, and their voices did not go unheard.

“Eastern staff and faculty had not really been prepared to face the different fears and concerns that came up throughout this last election,” said Angela Jones, EWU chief of staff for the Office of the President.

To address this issue, campus leadership introduced training courses through the Faculty Commons for staff and faculty to learn ways to talk with students about difficult subjects.

“We are also hiring a Vice President of Diversity Inclusion to be a thought leader,” said Jones. “We started the process already and we will hopefully have somebody on board around the start of the next academic year.”

In the meantime, students like Almalki continue to try and make EWU a home away from home.

“We go to work, we go to the supermarket, we take care of our kids,” Almalki said. “We are just like you.”

“We need to have an understanding as Eagle Nation … an understanding about each other,” said Angela Jones in support of students like Almalki and of diversity on campus. “We need to be the best we can be as Eagle Nation.”