Muslim Students Have Demands Met At Columbia

REUTERS/Mark Blinch

David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief
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Muslim students at Columbia University now have a full-time “Coordinator of Muslim Life” and prayer space open during academic breaks.

But the local chapter of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) says the decision is suspicious.

“Every year it’s been a battle getting things. It’s been like pulling teeth when we’re asking the chaplain for anything,” complained MSA senior adviser and former president Fatima Koli. “The pattern that I’ve seen is that Chaplain [Jewelnel]  Davis only does things for the Muslim community when it serves her—when there’s been a lot of attention and she knows she needs to do something to get that attention off of her.”

University chaplain Jewelnel Davis said the school had no problem with the demands from the local chapter of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), saying both issues had been solved — financially at any rate — through the donation of a anonymous benefactor.

The new coordinator is entrusted with providing “guidance and support to members of Columbia’s Muslim community” in order to “enhance the understanding” of various religious traditions on campus, Davis said. She added that her office would be meeting another MSA demand by “consulting with our student leaders and campus partners” as it seeks the right person for the job.

“There is a shared feeling across our University community that the times we live in require a vigorous reaffirmation of our principles,” she concluded. “Today’s announcement, and the anonymous gift that made it possible, reflects the University’s commitment to that course.”

But Columbia Faith and Action member Phil Jeffrey suspects ulterior motives.

“There’s an overwhelming sense that the office is not here for us. If this is the office dedicated to supporting faith communities, it’s not really apparent where that comes in.”

Yousr Shaltout, a senior at Barnard College who has been involved with advocating for Muslim students at the Columbia affiliate, also expressed surprising disappointment that the school had finally responded to the demands.

The MSA demanded both initiatives in a March petition that insisted Columbia establish a “fully-funded, full-time position for a Muslim Religious Life Advisor” while reminding the university that Muslim prayer space be available to students and non-students year-round.

“President Trump’s recent executive order blatantly legalizes racism and Islamophobia and goes against everything that the United States and this University aspires to,” the MSA executive board wrote in their petition. “As a result, the Muslim community is in need, now more than ever, of institutional support to help cope with the emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical toll these recent political events have on us.”

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