A proposal to establish a Muslim cultural resource center on campus has gained fresh attention in recent months, with a group of undergraduate and graduate students reviving a modified version of a seven-year-old plan in meetings with senior University administrators.
“Ever since 9/11, there’s been many more questions about Islam, about countries who are Muslim countries, about the different cultures and the diversity within the communities,” said Mahta Baghoolizadeh ’13, president of the Muslim Student Awareness Network. “There has been a greater and greater need for raising dialogue, and having a resource center would be the step forward.”
Baghoolizadeh has worked with Omar Shakir ’07 J.D. ’13 and Subhan Ali M.S. ’09 Ph.D. ’14 in approaching administrators with a proposal for the center. The trio, who are leading a larger 12-person effort associated with a number of student organizations, has already met with Vice Provost of Student Affairs Greg Boardman, President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy Ph.D. ’82.
“We’ve identified three needs that we see as being potentially addressed through having a resource center and through hiring a community director,” Shakir said.
Shakir first identified the need for a center to serve as an entry point for students who want to engage academically with opportunities in the Muslim world.
“[The center would be] a central point on the map where any student who is doing a research project on, say, architecture in Indonesia or politics in Morocco has a place to go that they feel like they can connect to outside of academics,” Shakir said.
Shakir and Baghoolizadeh also emphasized the need for a safe space for contentious conversations and conflicting dialogues.
“We see a significant need for institutional support, visibility and safe place for those that identify academically, culturally, religiously, with the Middle East, North Africa and South and Southeast Asia,” Shakir said. “The net is cast really wide, with over a dozen student groups, political groups, languages, involved in some way with the region.”
Shakir also argued that Stanford’s current lack of a Muslim resource center — and the “vibrant discourse” that would accompany it — is inconsistent with the University’s global stature and reputation, alleging that the University “really doesn’t have any institutional support at all” for Muslim students beyond academic programming.
“Every other top school has either an allocated space to serve as a forum for these sorts of discussions, and also in most cases, [has] hired a staff person that is in charge of overseeing programming and fostering that type of environment,” Shakir said.
Though the a version of the center was first proposed seven years ago, Ali said that the lengthy process of advancing the proposal was the result of seeking a solution that met the needs of many different types of people.
“Half the battle is explaining it to people and getting them to see what it is,” Ali said. “We are not 100 percent sure what it’s going to look like. There are needs and solutions that we’ve outlined, but no specific demands have been made.”
“We’ve searched other ways of dealing with it, but resource center best serves [the] needs,” Shakir said.
There is no formalized process to gain approval for a new community or resource center, given that the University’s current centers all arose from unique historical circumstances and that any new center would fall under several administrative jurisdictions. However, Student Affairs has led the University’s approach to meeting the needs of the Muslim community.
“There’s different options as to what increased support for the Muslim community might look like,” Boardman noted.
He also observed that promoting the development of a Muslim community center might set a precedent for other religious communities on campus in the future.
“Our focus is on how can we best support Muslim student experience at Stanford, but we have to look also what does this mean beyond this,” he said.