Law professor Sahar Aziz was horrified by the Sept. 11 attacks and their effect on public relationships with the American-Muslim community — an experience that in part motivated her to seek research funding on how Muslim experiences at Texas A&M may differ from their peers.
Over the course of one or two semesters, Professor Aziz at the Texas A&M School of Law plans to interview about 50 A&M students who identify as part of the Muslim community. The student subjects will speak about interactions with faculty members and other students, as well as how they coped during any negative experiences.
Aziz said the point of the research is not to prove discrimination, but rather to establish a basis for building research in other educational settings.
“There is no preconceived notion,” Aziz said, “We’re just hoping that we can identify the unique circumstances of Muslim students.”
The research will consider possible issues such as bias, assault and criminal justice targeting. Aziz said her research as a law student wasn’t the only thing that inspired her to further understand Muslim discrimination dynamics — her involvement in the Muslim’s communities contributed as well.
“I was deeply impacted by the Sept. 11 attacks, due to the horrific nature of the attacks but also due to the backlash [and] discrimination against Muslim communities,” Aziz said.
Since then Aziz said she has been dedicated to litigating, advocating and researching the civil rights challenges many Muslims face.
Shaida Kalbasi, an instructional assistant professor in health and kinesiology, will assist Aziz in gathering information on Muslim A&M students.
Based on her dissertation, which looked at the experiences of minority populations within the health care system, Kalbasi said she realized elements of systemic racism were coming into play based on a patient’s foreign accents and foreign-sounding names. In collaboration, Aziz and Kalbasi decided to research whether or not the same pattern of discrimination occurred within other settings.
Saira Ahmed, political science sophomore and a member of the Muslim Students’ Association, said she hopes Aziz’s research will unify students as well.
“Hopefully the results that [the research] produces will help people to look at Muslims in a different perspective,” Ahmed said. “We’re students first. We’re Aggies first. We’re also Americans. We should all be able to connect at that level.”
Aziz and Kalbasi’s research is being funded by a $4,000 grant from the the Office of the Vice President and Associate Provost for Diversity. Aziz said she and Kalbasi feel the research may be able to further establish an inclusive and welcoming environment at A&M specifically.
“Regardless of the results based on facts, this is certainly a compliment to A&M’s commitment to diversity,” Aziz said.