By Logan Hullinger
INDIANA — Michelle L. Sandhoff, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, will bring years of immersion in the Muslim community to a classroom in fall 2016 to deepen student understanding of Islamic culture.
Sandhoff, co-advisor to IUP’s Muslim Student Association, is offering a course titled Muslims in the U.S. in the 2016 fall semester.
The course description says SOC 481 will emphasize “deconstruction of popular stereotypes about Muslims.”
The experimental, three-credit special topics class will draw attention to the Muslim community in American history, especially since 9/11, and will encourage inclusion among students, Sandhoff said in an interview in her McElhaney Hall office Friday.
“Muslims have been pushed aside in our culture,” Sandhoff said. “There has been a large misconception about their community. And the class will hopefully open the minds of students to promote inclusion on not only our campus but around the nation, as well.”
The class will include assignments to foster student interaction with Muslim culture, such as “analysis of Muslims in pop culture” and “interviewing a Muslim student to learn about their lives,” Sandhoff said.
“We come to college to get a different outlook on life,” Sandhoff said. “Students are bound to be exposed to all kinds of people. We’re complex, and that’s a good thing.”
Sandhoff said she grew up in central California and converted to Islam in early adulthood.
“I grew up in a high school that was very diverse,” Sandhoff said. “When I moved from California, a stigma toward Muslims was very evident. When I tell people I’m Muslim, some immediately assume that I’m oppressed as a female member of the Muslim community.”
AHMED K. Yousof, a Communications Media doctoral student and teaching assistant, is president of the Muslim student group. The local issue is lack of understanding, not a lot of discrimination, he said.
“I personally haven’t experienced a lot of discrimination here,” Yousof said in an interview Monday in his Stouffer Hall office. “Although, I wouldn’t be surprised by the number of those who have, based on what we see in politics.”
Education about Islam, such as Sandhoff’s course, can be a preventive against discrimination, Yousof said.
“Many people simply don’t understand enough about Muslim culture,” he said. “We need to better educate the students about Islam and what it’s about. Before anyone can form an opinion on a group of people, they need to learn more about them first.”
The Muslim student organization and Sandhoff’s academic course can leverage the cultural understanding, Yousof said.
“The organization and the class go hand-in-hand,” Yousof said. “Seeing the university supporting Sandhoff’s efforts is wonderful.”
SANDHOFF said she expects the class to address gender and race stigmas, too.
‘There are Muslims who belong to other minority groups, such as African-American and female members of the religion,” Sandhoff said. “Imagine what they go through, on top of what just being a Muslim can entail for an individual.”
Sandhoff cited recent mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., where a Muslim couple opened fire at the Inland Regional Center, killing 14 and injuring 22. The attack is an example of how stigmas can grow following an isolated event, she said.
“People hear about things like terrorist attacks in the news, and the fear settles in,” Sandhoff said. “They then push the Muslim community aside, acting like they’re a different, scary kind of people. But they aren’t.”
ABOUT 3.3 million Muslims live in the United States, according to statistics published in January by the Pew Research Center. Muslims’ nearly 1 percent share of the U.S. population will double by 2050, Pew estimated.
IUP does not track student religious affiliation, said university spokeswoman Michelle S. Fryling in response to an April 8 email inquiry.
Sandhoff cited anti-Muslim rhetoric by Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump to emphasize a sense of urgency in preparing her fall 2016 Sociology course.
“We hear denouncements of the Muslim community often,” Sandhoff said. “Now is the time to address this. The tone often displayed towards Muslims is malicious and ignorant, and we need to start treating them like real people.”
Yousof said IUP could do more to benefit the local Muslim population.
“I’d like to see more religious-based events, and not just for Islam,” Yousof said. “This should be a collective effort between the university and its students. The IUP administration can help create even more of a bridge between Muslims and non-Muslims.”
IUP should put as much effort into addressing religion as it did addressing race following a racist Snapchat photo last fall.
“When the administration saw that photo, rallies and an influx of events occurred to face the issue of racism,” Yousof said. “I’d like to see them take the same approach with religion. Making additions to campus, such as making more areas to pray and conducting stricter monitoring of the campus climate toward Islam, would take the movement a step further.”
Registration for SOC 481-004 is open to all undergraduate and graduate students without prerequisite for the fall semester. The course has no cap on enrollment, according to its catalog description.
Logan Hullinger, a sophomore journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania from Clarion, is a staff reporter for The HawkEye. He can be contacted at L.R.Hullinger@iup.edu.