A Document Analysis Examining the Experiences of Muslim College Students at a Public University in the U.S. South

By Whitehead, Melvin A.; Smith, Matthew J. et al. | College Student Affairs Journal, Fall 2019 | Go to article overview

A Document Analysis Examining the Experiences of Muslim College Students at a Public University in the U.S. South


Whitehead, Melvin A., Smith, Matthew J., Williams, Brittany M., McDaniel, Brittany N., College Student Affairs Journal


During the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign, Islamophobia took center stage as Republican front-runner Donald Trump (re)ignited fear against Muslim people (Bridge Initiative Team, 2015; Foran, 2016). Shortly after securing the presidency in January 2017, Trump issued Executive Order No. 13769, Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, in an attempt to ban individuals from seven countries, where the majority identifies as Muslim (Braaten, 2017). Executive Order No. 13769 was designed to limit U.S. entry for individuals the current White House administration deemed as a potential terrorist or having potential terrorist ties (Executive Order No. 13769, 2017). The basis for this decision was the 2001 September 11th terror attacks, as the Trump administration purports the current visa and entry process is too lax. Seven nations were impacted by this order.

The seven countries bound by Executive Order No. 13769 included: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. In the days following the ban announcement, several professional associations in higher education (such as the American Association of Universities, College Student Educators International, and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators), students, campus leaders, and others sought to minimize the impact of the ban on students studying in the U.S. (Braatan, 2017). There are many think pieces and conceptual articles detailing the events leading to the executive order and its subsequent ramifications. However, few peer-reviewed publications describing the experiences of Muslim college students navigating the executive order exist despite agreement that the order has specific implications for this population (Ayoub & Beydoun, 2017; Chacón, 2017; Stegmeir, 2017). Accordingly, two research questions drove this qualitative research study: 1) What are the collegiate experiences of Muslim students attending an institution in the U.S. South as reported in the student-run newspaper at that institution?; and 2) How, if at all, have Muslim students' reported experiences been shaped by the January 2017 issuance of the executive order?

Review of the Literature

Since the 1970s, U.S. laws and policies have targeted foreign-born Arab Muslims to limit their U.S. entry, selectively interrogate them, presume their involvement in terrorism, and deport them (Akram, 2002). Given their approximation to U.S. cultural practices and norms, U.S institutions of higher education are not immune to perpetuating discrimination against these historically marginalized groups despite institutional declarations of inclusion. As Rose-Redwood & Rose-Redwood (2017) shared, U.S. institutions of higher education have shared similar commitments in "cross-cultural engagement in the pursuit of knowledge" (p. iii), welcoming students from different cultures to pursue an education.

For students identifying as Muslim, their religious identity has a significant impact on their collegiate experience (Cole & Ahmadi, 2010; Rockenbach, Mayhew, Bowman, Morin, & Riggers-Piehl, 2017). Entering college, Muslim students tend to be more open minded to others' perspectives, report higher levels of engagement in diversity-related extracurriculars, and tend to befriend more people across races compared to peers who follow one of the other Abrahamic religions (Cole & Ahmadi, 2010). Muslim students are also more likely than others to actively practice their religion throughout college (Bryant, 2006). Campuses that provide spaces dedicated to interfaith engagement and activities are more likely to better support the development of relationships across religions that may contribute to positive attitudes and perceptions of Muslim students (Rockenbach et al., 2017).

Yet, college campuses also present hostile environments for Muslim students. Studies indicate that Muslim students and students originating from Islamic countries have experienced Islamophobic en- vironments, including being stereotyped and verbally attacked by faculty, staff, and peers (Ali, 2014; Cole & Ahmadi, 2003; Lee & Rice, 2007; Nasir & Al-Amin, 2006). …

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