Conference addresses Islamophobia in HE

A rainy afternoon saw me travel to Leeds Trinity University (LTU) to attend ‘Islamophobia: Causes and Cures’. It is quite fitting that it was raining as it was a bit Noah’s ark with things coming in pairs! My first visit to LTU and my first in-person external event since I began working at Go Higher West Yorkshire (GHWY) during the pandemic.

The conference was held during Interfaith Week and the tenth anniversary of Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM). This year’s theme for IAM is Tackling Denial. As a Muslim, I have lived experience of Islamophobia in Higher Education (HE) but it was good to hear other perspectives on the subject. There was an introduction from Professor Charles Egbu (LTU’s Vice-Chancellor) and a keynote presentation from Dr Madeline Sophie-Abbas (Senior Lecturer, Lancaster University). There was also a panel discussion, workshop, and the chance for networking.

So, what is Islamophobia? The increase in Muslim staff and students at LTU saw them take the positive step of adopting the All Party Parliamentary Group definition: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” One of the things emphasised several times at the event was how an individual’s experience of studying or working in HE varies, despite the panel all being Muslim or of Muslim heritage. However, there are still common threads in terms of the causes and cures of Islamophobia.

The causes are complex but include several factors: the lack of representation in HE; decolonising the curriculum is relatively new for some HE providers; and the expectation on Muslims to change, rather than having that two-way communication and dialogue to be inclusive in HE.

There are nonetheless positive steps that all HE providers can take to address Islamophobia. The University of Bradford, Leeds Beckett University, University of Huddersfield and LTU – all of which are GHWY members – are part of the Race Equality Charter found in HE. There is also the need for staff training, whether unconscious bias training or attending events such as the one LTU hosted. Lastly, vital work is needed to decolonise the curriculum.

It was nice to see familiar faces at the event, which had good GHWY representation. It was hosted by Shames Maskeen (LTU), who is Co-Chair of our Black Asian and Minoritised Ethnic Students Network, and the panel included a University of Leeds Muslim Staff Network member. The Outreach Officer for Leeds Arts University was also in the audience.

I enjoyed hearing more about Islamophobia in HE and will look forward to updates from our members in this area.

Tahera Mayat, GHWY Collaborative Outreach Officer