In this report, the California Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CA) presents its analysis of a 2019-2020 college campus climate survey of American Muslim college and university students.
The survey was administered to students at over sixty institutions of higher learning primarily throughout the state of California, including both public and private universities and colleges. Its purpose is to examine the lived experiences of American Muslim college students and the issues they face, particularly as a consequence of their real or perceived Muslim identities.
Belonging to a stigmatized religious group may lead to increased feelings
of rejection and discrimination. This is especially true for Muslim college
students in the current sociopolitical climate as outlined by the findings of this
report. Included below are recommendations made by CAIR-CA that college
administrators and college students can utilize to combat Islamophobia on
There are several actions college administrators can take to ensure that their campuses are places where Muslim students feel welcome, included, and valued. While the following recommendations are based on the finding of the survey results, many of the below recommendations have been proposed by other organizations in the past. However, we continue to see the need for colleges to take affirmative steps to meet these recommendations. That these recommendations are still being proposed highlights the need for colleges to take immediate action to implement these recommendations.
Campuses should also affirmatively work towards investigating and learning about the specific campus climate on their own campus and work on addressing the unique needs and concerns of their student populations. After a proper assessment has been completed, campuses should implement a policy-based action plan, train campus administrators and professors and work to engage Muslim students in the college's community. Colleges should foster a diverse and multicultural environment to create an inclusive environment for all students. The following are general recommendations that all college administrators may take to begin to address the concerns of Muslim students across California.
First, college administrators must provide protection against all types of religious bullying and harassment on campus. Campuses have an ethical and legal obligation to protect all students from harassment and intimidation based on their race, nationality, religion, or other protected category. College administrators must build upon any anti-discrimination policies they have and ensure that such policies include: robust reporting mechanisms, including making clear that students can file complaints against professors and administrators; reasonable timelines for reviewing and investigating credible complaints; a transparent overview of the status of the review and investigation of the complaint; and a reasonable appeal process for challenging outcomes of reviews and investigations. These policies should also be widely distributed and advertised to all segments of the student population on an ongoing basis, so students are aware of the reporting mechanisms made available to them. In order to deter discrimination and harassment, college campuses should also implement mandatory antidiscrimination and implicit bias. These trainings should also inform professors and administrators on spotting and intervening in Islamophobic discrimination and harassment. Ensuring that anti-discrimination policies, practices and trainings are implemented and abided by allows for a consistent approach across all segments of the campus to support an environment that rejects Islamophobia and other hateful rhetoric and actions.
Second, colleges should commit to increased academic
courses and learning opportunities on Islam and the Arab,
Middle Easter, Muslim, and South Asian ('AMEMSA')
community on their campuses. These courses should be
part of required Ethnic Studies courses for all students. In
general, campuses should continue and increase support
for Ethnic Studies programs and recognize the importance
of courses in which underrepresented students can see
themselves reflected in their academic curriculum in a
positive and sensitive manner. Often when courses on
AMEMSA politics or history are offered, they are usually
taught by faculty not from AMEMSA backgrounds and
who sometimes project cultural insensitivity in the
classroom.25 Campuses should work to foster and
facilitate collaboration among faculty with expertise in
the area of study, and who are culturally sensitive to the
complexity of identity issues of AMEMSA students.26
Campuses should also work to recruit diverse faculty,
including AMEMSA faculty with research backgrounds in
Third, college administrators must provide reasonable religious accommodations for Muslim students. College administrators should initiate discussions with their Muslim student population and be open when approached by Muslim students regarding religious accommodations. These accommodations ensure that Muslim students and organizations feel welcome and safe on their own campuses. Common religious accommodations that are needed by Muslim students include adequate and centrally located prayer space to accommodate the five daily Muslim prayers in congregation; scheduling accommodations for examinations that occur during religious holidays or during the month of Ramadan; and expanding accommodations for Islamic dietary/Halal options.
Fourth, campus administrators must uphold their obligation to foster an educational environment where all students are free to voice their political viewpoints. Accordingly, college administrators must actively combat efforts to chill Palestinian rights advocates and commit to a campus environment where student advocates feel protected by their administrators. As discussed above, escalating efforts to chill Palestinian rights advocacy have a dangerous impact on individual students and on Muslim and Arab student communities. Students across California have been affected by negative depictions of their activism, including an increased fear of harm to their professional careers, immigration status, and safety; intimidation, threats and vandalism by other groups; and a sense that their campus administration's mis-characterization of their message reflects efforts to undermine their free speech rights.
College administrators must commit to stop disparaging students who criticize Israeli policy as an expression of their political views and to protect those students from outside pressure. In fact, college administrators should make public statements clarifying that criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic and proactively reach out to Muslim Student Associations ('MSA') and Students for Justice in Palestine ('SJP') who have been unfairly branded as anti-Semitic. College administrators must also ensure they are not contributing to a climate which intimidates and punishes students who wish to express pro-Palestinian views by making public statements branding advocacy for Palestinian human rights as anti- Semitic. College administrators must reject and efforts to label criticism or critique of Israeli state policy as anti-Semitic. College administrators must also publicly commit to defending against Title VI claims intended to intimidate Palestinian advocacy and academia.
All students have the right to learn in a safe and protected
environment, free from discrimination and harassment. If
a student is a victim of Islamophobia, is being treated
differently or discriminated against based on a protected
characteristic then the student should file a complaint
with the campus. Students, parents or an advocate can
file the complaint on the student's behalf.
Despite the many challenges facing Muslim college students, Muslim college students should continue to get involved in their MSAs and other activist student organizations. Doing so helps foster a sense of community, identity, and safe space. Muslim students should also work to build coalitions with other student groups of color in order to have their concerns and voices amplified on campus, both to the student body and to administration.
In getting involved with campus organizations and engaging in activism, it is crucial for Muslim students to understand the rights afforded to them under Federal and state law. Federal law, the Constitution, and the California Constitution guarantee college students' freedom of religion, religious accommodation, and freedom of speech.
Regarding religious accommodations, students should work alongside student unions and college administrations to ensure their religious accommodations are provided to them. Additionally, students should communicate in advance with course instructors about prayer time and other religious accommodations. If students encounter issues with their instructors granting accommodations, they can consider engaging chaplains and student life advisors to negotiate such accommodations. Students should also review Ramadan timings and potential academic conflicts in advance and communicate them to course instructors.
Regarding free speech rights, college students have a protected right to engage in and invite speech they wish to hear, debate speech with which they disagree and protest speech they find bigoted or offensive. Generally, restrictions on speech by public colleges and universities amount to government censorship, in violation of the Constitution. However, the First Amendment does not protect speech or behavior that is targeted harassment or threats, or that creates a pervasively hostile environment for vulnerable students as this may limit a student's ability to participate in or benefit from a school's services, activities, or opportunities. Free speech rights do not extend to defamation, obscenity, 'true threats' or speech that incites imminent violence or law-breaking.27 Under California law, if repeated incidents of harassment or a single severe incident of harassment occurs at a college or university, the school's administration must act upon receiving notice of the complaint.
Public colleges and universities may regulate the time, place, and manner of speech in public forums using reasonable restrictions, if the regulations are viewpoint and content neutral. In general, a school must be able to communicate an important and probable rationale – such as a specific and realistic threat to campus security or academic environment – in order to invoke such an exclusion. Even if time, place and manner restrictions exist, such regulations must allow for alternative channels of communication and if they prevent students from getting their message to the intended audience or if the restrictions are differentially applied to certain groups, then such actions are likely to be unconstitutional. Colleges are prohibited from using time, place, and manner regulations to unreasonably restrict student protests or otherwise chill speech.
College students should report any incidents of
Islamophobia to their local CAIR-CA office. CAIR-CA
provides Know Your Rights workshops to American Muslim college students and organizations to train and
inform students of their rights on college campuses.
CAIR-CA can also work alongside Muslim students to address requests for accommodation or address incidents of Islamophobia on college campuses. Upon request, CAIR-CA provides cultural competency training to educators and administrators and we work with students in dealing with issues affecting campus life. Additionally, CAIR-CA conducts focus groups, listening sessions and community surveys to understand the problems American Muslim students face on campus. College students should reach out to CAIR-CA if the student or student organization is experiencing Islamophobia on campus. CAIR-CA offers legal services for those experiencing civil rights violations, which includes incidents of Islamophobia on campus.