Practicing Muslim students face major barriers on campus. This has been evident to those students who follow the Qur'an. But until recently, it has been less know by student leaders and the broader campus. Sparked by issues of vandalism and other incidents at Ryerson, the Canadian Federation of Students has set out to look at the needs of Muslim students and document concerns from across the province. Homophobic and Islamophobic vandalism occured one year ago at UW as well. This issue is something we must deal with, though day-to-day concerns are also very relevant.
I didn't realize the pressure that some students feel, and how many missed opportunities occur because of an often difficult system, where Muslims must miss meetings or events for prayer (including transit time to prayer rooms) - and this is often compounded at times such as Ramadan. Conflicting societal rules can make it difficult for Muslim students to write exams, participate in sports, attend holidays and finance their education, while maintaining moral obligations.
It is obvious to me that concerns are being raised, and being unmet. On the other hand, much progress has been made, for example, in the timing and accessibility of halal food.
And it appears that our MSA is providing more of a service than just what a club can handle. I bet there are several clubs like that if we look deeper.
So what will I do?
If elected, I will maintain support for events that increase awareness of Islam - with awareness comes tolerance, acceptance...
Of course Muslim students should also come out to other educational events and mingle with students who participate in various clubs and services as much as possible. Making athletic facilities appropriate and increasing the number of multi-faith prayer/meditation rooms is important. Perhaps before these actions are lobbied for, however, I see the need for student leadership positions to be accessible to Muslim students. Suggestions were given to allow for specific conditions when applying for positions such as in Feds, that would excempt dealing with alcohol or interest. Great idea.
Aside from education and interaction, specific changes can be implemented. Most of these involve changes in the university, so working with staff, faculty and administration at some level. I will look into how to increase the availability of Halal meats and vegetarian dishes at Food Services, and work with my VP Admin & Finance for the same at Aussies and Bomber.
I would also advise my Vice President Education to investigate (in collaboration with other campuses and the Human Right Comission) a different system to pay off OSAP fees that would not involve paying interest, and increasing grants in general over loans. I would also direct the VP-Ed to work on getting a directive from upper-administrators, down to professors and teaching assistants, to allow exemption without penalty for prayer during exams.
It is true that a real leader looks ahead how to solve issues before a crisis hits. I heard this in the meeting, and learned this as well from a lecture by Romeo Dallaire last year.
This is not by any means a comprehensive plan, and I can't pretend that we can achieve perfect conditions within a year. Perhaps it could involve making a long-term plan with the Feds. The prioritizing should be determined by Muslims students, so we can work together on these, sharing the task of advocacy. Halal food appears as a top concern in a small MSA website poll. But more discussion on the specific question of immediate prioty is needed.
I look forward to reading through the recommendations of the task force on the needs of Muslim students.
Barriers to student service at UW however don't only include Islam. There are other cultural-religious issues that can and should be raised - let's keep the discussion going. I believe I can come closest to achievements working with you, because that's what I've done at UW already when working on change with students and administration. Below is a comment from the Director of Food Services at the University of Waterloo.
“In the initial development stages of the UW Farmers Market, Darcy and I worked on getting the concept and support teams in place to get the Market of the ground. His marketing strategies and influence with student volunteers, staff and faculty helped make the UW Market the success it turned out to be. Darcy works well with others and has gained the respect within his faculty and beyond…it would be a refreshing change to have someone like Darcy Higgins involved with the Federation of Students who can work with the entire university community in a positive way.”
- Lee Elkas, Director