Timetable could limit race attacks

August 4, 2006

Academics could play a role in preventing racist attacks by rescheduling lectures to avoid students being isolated as they travel to and from university, suggests research, writes Olga Wojtas.

A study into the experiences of female Muslim students reveals that some feel vulnerable because of timetabling.

Yasmin, a Pakistani student, told researchers: "Early lectures and late lectures are very hard for me because I have to think of my own security and my own safety, and there is a high risk of me being attacked... The way I dress, that is what triggers it off."

Many female students said they felt more at risk than men since the hijab made their religion obvious.

David Tyrer, of Liverpool John Moores University, who carried out the research with Fauzia Ahmad of Bristol University, said Islamophobia had been on the rise since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and July 7.

"Universities have done really well in policies covering religious and cultural diversity, but we tend not to see anything about Islamophobia even among race equality documents," he said. "There is a need to make sure universities acknowledge the changing nature of racism."

The research, presented at the Institute of Education, University of London, challenges stereotypes of Muslim women as oppressed. The study, funded by the European Social Fund and LJMU, included some 200 interviews with Muslim women.

Marriage, children and other responsibilities did not prevent them studying for a degree, and many said their families were instrumental in encouraging them to pursue a career. But some students claimed there was "inertia" in tackling far-right racist activities in universities.

Students reported verbal harassment in institutions, and discrimination, including careers staff weeding out students with "foreign-sounding" names who had signed up for appointments and workshops.

The report urges staff to make sure they consult female as well as male Muslim students. Women may face particular responsibilities, such as cooking during Ramadan, which require sensitivity in timetabling, it says.

Academics should ensure that set readings for courses do not represent Muslim women only in stereotypical ways. And universities are encouraged to highlight provisions such as prayer facilities.

But Dr Tyrer stressed that staff must speak to a range of students, rather than a token representative. "There is huge diversity and different levels of practising Islam," he said.

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