A campaign against Islamophobia organised by Warwick Students’ Union (SU) education officer Maahwish Mirza has attracted national and international media attention.
The campaign has asked staff and students to take pictures of themselves holding signs with personal messages about why they would like to to challenge Islamophobia. Examples include ‘the extremists do not define us’ as well as ‘Muslims deserve to feel safe’.
Warwick University’s vice-chancellor, Sir Nigel Thrift, also got involved with the project, writing on his sign that ‘stereotypes are lazy and dangerous’.
The campaign, which began earlier this month, quickly went viral. It has been reported by a variety of media outlets, including the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and also Russia Today.
The campaign is one of a series of events run by the education officer to increase awareness of and to combat racial prejudice throughout the year.
Warwick took part in its first month-long programme of events for Black History Month in October, and Ms Mirza created the Open Education Series which ran through term two and involved inviting the popular “Why Is My Curriculum White?” campaign to Warwick.
The idea for the campaign came partly from the increase experiences of Islamophobia in the wake of highly public terrorist attacks such the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France in January.
Ms Mirza also noted that the campaign had been borne out of her own experiences. She said: “personal experience, and that of my friends as Muslim students at Russell Group institutions with little visible representation or celebration of our identities”.
She continued, explaining her concerns: “Many if not all Muslim students can often feel nervous or anxious about being ‘visibly Muslim’ and frequently experience anti-Muslim attitudes… even at liberal places of learning.
“I do think the campaign has been successful. The impact I think has been phenomenal – I’ve had Muslim students I’ve never spoken to sharing it and messaging me saying that they feel so happy to see the pictures.
“The message the ISoc posted was lovely too – they said that they feel lucky to have such a supportive SU and Warwick community.
“I really hope this campaign makes Muslim students like me feel welcome and empowered in the knowledge that we stand against Islamophobia as one.
“It’s been crazy! But even if we hadn’t had that coverage [from the media] just seeing Muslim students saying that they felt proud to be part of Warwick was enough for me. That was the aim of my campaign.”
More to be done
However, Ms Mirza thinks that more still needs to be done. She said: “I hope to carry out some sessions on running to be a Sabbatical Officer for minority groups towards the end of this term.
“I want the SU to do more to recognise different religious and cultural festivals. There’s just so much to do and I know people and groups who will carry on this work once I leave – this is just the beginning.
“I’ll be leaving office in August but if this campaign taught me anything, it’s that a camera and a board pen can get you further than you’d think!”