Fostering Community & Supportive Networks for Muslim Youth Online
by Meherina Khan, a senior at Harvard College studying Social Anthropology and Neuroscience
Keywords: muslim youth, community, mentorship, surveillance, online programming
The trials of adolescence are foreign to few, but the stress of coping with a global pandemic on top of expanding surveillance measures targeting communities of color is a mounting challenge that Muslim teenagers across the nation are now facing. The focus of my community care project this semester was to help facilitate and create online spaces for Muslim youth to build community during the COVID-19 pandemic in an online adaptation of the Harvard Muslim Youth Program (HMYP), a joint venture between the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) and the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) in Roxbury to provide the local community with access to free tutoring services and enrichment opportunities. With surveillance initiatives such as Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) infiltrating intimate community and educational environments, HMYP strives to hold a space that is for and led by young people and driven by mutual respect, compassion and love.
After witnessing a gap in services and social spaces targeted towards Muslim adolescents throughout the pandemic, a group of Harvard students and ISBCC staff proposed that HMYP be expanded to a virtual tutoring and mentorship model, primarily serving middle to high school students for the 2020-21 academic year. Recognizing youth as critical agents for meaningful change, HMYP also incorporated a fluid curriculum and community project element that is designed and developed by program participants based on issues they identified within their community; with this programming component, college mentors back the leadership of the students while guiding them on effective organizing strategies and skill-building workshops to help them reach their intended project outcomes. The students of HMYP decided that for their community project, they will host a community event and presentation for their local school board members to advocate for more accommodations for Muslim students, such as access to a prayer space during school hours and halal meal options.
The portion of the syllabus below presents an amalgam of sources on two major themes of exploration and inquiry related to my care project: the surveillance of Muslims as a suspect community and a larger discourse on expanding accommodations and support for Muslim students in schools. Within the section on surveillance, there is a particular focus on CVE, a surveillance initiative started by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that was piloted in Boston and primarily targets Somali and Muslim youth. In the second section, there are case studies, reports, and articles that capture some of the research being conducted within HMYP in preparation for the students’ community presentation next spring.
HMYP hopes to cultivate a safe space for Muslim youth that empowers them to share their experiences to learn from each other, build on ongoing efforts to influence meaningful structural change, and use their collective voices to advocate for the needs of their communities. The sources included in this syllabus share in a larger narrative: more than community spaces funded by surveillance initiatives like CVE, youth and community members yearn for spaces to build genuine connections and relationships with one another without fear that what they say and share in trust may be used against them.
2018 The Feeling of Being Watched. Documentary. http://www.feelingofbeingwatched.com
2018 Off the Record: Police Surveillance, Muslim Youth, and an Ethnographer’s Tools of Research. Equity & Excellence in Education 51(3–4): 431–449.
Accomodating Muslim Students in Schools
2020 Muslims and Islam in U.S. Public Schools: Cases, Controversies and Curricula. Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal 17(2): 17.
2018 Halal and Kosher School Lunch Pilot Proposal. Office of New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer: 13.
2018 Religion in the Hallways: Academic Performance and Psychological Distress among Immigrant Origin Muslim Adolescents in High Schools. American Journal of Community Psychology 61(3–4): 344–357.