NY: Muslim Students Hyper-Aware of Religious Identity


Contrary to expectations – and the fears of many parents -- Muslim youth have generally felt comfortable, safe and fairly content in New York City public schools since the events of September 11th, 2001, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Teachers College. Yet these young people – even those who are not religious -- have been made hyper-conscious of their religious identity.

The results of the study -- Muslim Youth in New York City Public Schools: Religiosity, Education and Civic Belonging –are being presented and discussed today at an all-day conference at Teachers College. The event, which runs from 9:00 am-7:00pm, is being held in the College’s Cowin Conference Center.

The conference will include a special book launch celebration for This Is Where I Need to Be: Oral Histories of Muslim Youth in New York City, an anthology of texts developed from interviews by Muslim students of Muslim students. The book is a project of the Teachers College Student Press Initiative, which works with classes in public schools across the city to write, edit and publish themed anthologies of essays. The reading, which begins at 5:30 in the Cowin Center, will showcase the efforts of Muslim teens from around the city. It will be followed by a discussion and book signing.

About one in 10 students in New York City’s public schools is Muslim – more than 100,000 in all. More than 600 Muslim and non-Muslim students in public and private schools were surveyed for the Teachers College study, which also included focus groups and ethnography. The study found that Muslim youth in public schools have high self esteem, perform well or better academically than their non-Muslim peers and are active in extra-curricular activities. The vast majority (95 percent) report that some, most or all of their school friends are non-Muslim, while seven in ten non-Muslim students surveyed reported that some of their friends are Muslim.

Yet the post-9/11 environment has heightened the value of Islam as a marker of identification for Muslim students.

“These kids are hyper-conscious of being Muslim whether they are religious or not,” says Louis Cristillo, the Teachers College faculty member who led the three-year study. “It’s as if they’re another racial group – ‘the Muslims.’ They themselves will say ‘the Muslims’ and ‘the Americans’ and ‘the white folks.’ But that hyper consciousness has not been imposed upon them in their schools. It’s generated by the constant news coverage of their religion, typically framed by very negative coverage. If you’re a Muslim, you’re in the news every single day, and it’s been like that since 9/11.”

 


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