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Campus partners collaborate to combat Islamophobia and antisemitism

April 18, 2022 - Beth Brauer

The rise in anti-Muslim and antisemitic attacks over the last several years has prompted two campus leaders and faculty members to join forces to educate the Spartan community about the harm caused by Islamophobia and antisemitism.

Yael Aronoff, director of the Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel and professor in James Madison College, and Mohammad Khalil, director of the Muslim Studies Program and professor of religious studies, offered their second joint workshop this year titled “Recognizing and Combatting Antisemitism and Islamophobia.” A small group of students, faculty and community members gathered for the 6 p.m., April 12 workshop, which was held in James Madison’s Club Spartan.

Both Aronoff and Khalil believe it is important to offer these joint workshops to keep the conversation alive about the pervasive acts of violence and inflammatory rhetoric that continues to target both Jewish and Muslim communities.

“Mohammad and I appreciated President Stanley appointing us both to the University DEI Steering Committee, which was a signal that attention to Jewish and Muslim community members should be included in [diversity, equity and inclusion] work. We are making progress, but the effort to include antisemitism and Islamophobia in orientations and workshops is at its very beginning stages,” said Aronoff.

Both directors were joined by faculty members Amy Simon, William and Audrey Farber Family Chair in Holocaust Studies and European Jewish History and JMC assistant professor, and Morgan Shipley, inaugural Foglio Endowed Chair of Spirituality and associate professor of religious studies. James Madison student Ellie Baden, a senior double majoring in social relations and policy and political theory and constitutional democracy with a minor in Jewish studies, also contributed to the evening’s presentation.

The focus of the presentation was largely on how to recognize instances of antisemitism and Islamophobia, but not before presenting information about the historical origins, important definitions and basic facts about Judaism and Islam.

Aronoff explained because the content is not currently included in university-wide orientations for incoming students, faculty and staff, they decided to make the effort themselves to offer these workshops for different units on campus.

“Jewish and Muslim communities share an intersection of religious and ethnic identities which are minority identities in the U.S. and at MSU. We have collaborated on strengthening a new religious observance policy for the university that we hope will be implemented by Fall 2022,” Aronoff said.

Both programs have collaborated in the past including MSU Dialogues on Religion and Ethnicity, which was introduced to the MSU community in the fall of 2019. Their previous [joint workshop] this year has been presented to 320 residential advisers.

“We would like to provide bridges, model collaboration and appreciate commonalities. There are a great many commonalities… about our communities, and awareness about prejudices against them is one such bridge,” Aronoff said.

Faculty, students and community members who attended the seminar about Islamophobia an antisemitism
Left to right: Reverend Neal Anderson, Morgan Shipley, Yael Aronoff, Amy Simon, Mady Sissoko, Mohammad Khalil and Ellie Baden

JMC social relations and policy student Jack Wheatley attended the event and said he was grateful to have had the chance to do so before graduating this spring. “The subjects, Islamophobia and antisemitism, are of utmost importance for the general public and academics to understand and to be able to recognize if or when they see it.

I was very interested in the long historical context provided by both groups and how each has changed and transformed across times and social shifts,” Wheatley said.

MSU social science student and Spartan men’s basketball player Mady Sissoko also attended the event. Sissoko, who is from the West African country Mali and a practicing Muslim, found the presentation interesting and affirming. “When people don’t really understand your religion, something like this event gives people greater understanding than what is typically known,” Sissoko said.

Although the April presentation was the last of its kind for the spring semester, the work being done to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia is ongoing. All faculty members who participated in the workshop actively engage students to think about these problems through the content they teach and through the additional programming they are working to develop.

“Our goal is that more student, faculty, and staff organizations and groups, as well as college units or classes, invite us to do workshops. We hope that participation in more in-depth education outside a one-time workshop or orientation is incentivized through single credit courses, honors options and in other ways,” Aronoff said.

To learn more about the events and programming provided through MSU Muslim Studies Program and the Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel, visit their websites and follow them on social media.