Hate in School Settings

May 4, 2023

The following remarks were delivered by Maha Elgenaidi on May 2, 2023, at a White House Listening Session on Islamophobia hosted by Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, White House Domestic Policy Advisor Ambassador Susan Rice, Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Joshua Geltzer, and Office of Public Engagement Director Stephen Benjamin.  The event was co-hosted by White House Liaison to American Muslim Communities, Mazen Basrawi, and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain. 

Islamophobia is pervasive where 8 out of 10 young American-born Muslims and women experience Islamophobia according to a 2021 UC Berkeley survey.  This of course shows up in schools where 1 out 2 Muslim students suffer from bullying; twice the national average. 

The impact of Islamophobia on Muslim students includes the following:

  • Teasing and bullying by other students where Muslim students are being called names like “bomber,” or “terrorist,” and girls with hijab are assaulted by having their scarves pulled off
  • One-third of the bullying comes from school staff and educators, where Muslim students are being shamed in current event discussions which are often framed as “us” vs. “them” or are being asked to act as “experts” on issues relating to Muslims or being told outright that they’re terrorists. Examples include:
    • In New York, a teacher asked, “Why are all Muslims terrorists?” in a discussion on current events.
    • In Florida, a teacher called a 14-year-old Muslim girl a “rag-head Taliban.”
    • In Texas, a teacher told a Muslim student that “we all think you’re a terrorist.”
    • In one case, a teacher in Arizona told a Muslim student, “‘I can’t wait until Trump is elected. He’s going to deport all you Muslims. Muslims shouldn’t be given visas. They’ll probably take away your visa and deport you. You’re going to be the next terrorist, I bet.’ On the bus ride home, a student in the classroom who heard the teacher say this, taunted the Muslim student about his visa, calling him a ‘terrorist,’ and accusing him of planning to blow up the bus.”

       –       As a result, Muslim students tend to suffer silently from anxiety and stress.

In the few minutes I have, my policy recommendations include the following:

  • Enforcing existing policies:
    • Raise awareness of current federal laws on bullying prevention and response by requiring training and school staff certification. Studies have shown that bullying is reinforced in school by the inactions of adult school staff.  
    • Raise awareness of student and parental rights and corresponding accommodations by requiring training and school staff certification. 
      • Civil Rights Act of 1964-Title VI prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin.
      • While religion is not included, the Department of Education extends protection to groups with shared ancestry or ethnic background.
  • Amending Department of Education statues that protect student and parental rights by giving educators examples of what might be asked for or required. Examples include:
    • Making schools aware of religious holidays without mandating them.
    • Making schools aware of religious accommodations like modest clothing.

Thank you. Turning it back to the facilitator.