The California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relation’s (CAIR-CA) 2012 Muslim Youth at School Survey was the first statewide survey to examine the experiences of American Muslim youth at school. It targeted youth from across California and received responses from 21 counties. In total, 471 Muslim American students attending public school between the ages of 11 and 18 responded to the survey, which consisted of 10 multiple choice questions and space for comments.
Through the survey, CAIR-CA sought to better understand how comfortable American Muslim students felt attending their schools and participating in the classroom. CAIR-CA also made it a goal to enhance its awareness of the extent to which students were being bullied and their responses.
California’s Muslim students, for the most part, reported a healthy school environment in which they were comfortable participating in discussions about their religious identity, believed that their teachers respected their religion, and felt safe at school.
Most of the respondents came from areas of California with large and robust Muslim populations, such as Orange County and Santa Clara County. This may account for the many responses we received from students who stated that they felt confident and supported in asserting their Muslim identity at school. While many respondents indicated that they simply internalized anti-Muslim name-calling from peers, such as “Osama Bin Laden” and “terrorist,” many indicated that this did not have a long-lasting effect on them.
As evidenced by the findings in this report, there are still significant issues facing American Muslim youth at school. The majority of school-related cases reported to CAIR involve teacher discrimination. Therefore, it is significant that 18% of the surveyed students answered: ‘Strongly Disagree,’ ‘Disagree,’ or ‘Undecided’ when asked about feeling comfortable participating in classroom discussions and 19% of students answered: ‘Strongly Disagree,’ ‘Disagree,’ or ‘Undecided’ when asked if their teachers respected their religion.
More than 10% of American Muslim students reported physical bullying such as slapping, kicking, or punching. Seventeen percent of the female respondents who wear a hijab, the Islamic headscarf, reported being bullied at least once because of this. Most importantly, 50% of American Muslim students reported being subjected to mean comments and rumors about them because of their religion. Additionally, more than 21% of students reported experiencing some form of cyberbullying.
Students had mixed reactions to reporting incidents to adults. About 63% said that they reported incidents of bullying to a teacher or principal, while only 53% said they reported to their parents. As to whether they thought reporting helped, 35% answered that it ‘Never,’ ‘Rarely,’ or ‘Sometimes’ helped, and only 17% answered that it ‘Often,’ or ‘Very Often’ helped.
With respect to how students reacted to their aggressors when they were bullied, 8% said that they fought back, 21% said that they insulted them back, and 11% said that they reacted by making fun of the aggressor’s religion or race. Sixty-one percent reported that they never fought back, 51% said that they never insulted their aggressor, and 60% reported that they never made fun of the bully’s religion or race.
School bullying is a phenonmenon that affects students from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and American Muslim students are not exempt from being subjected to harassment and discrimination at school. As Islam and Muslims continue to be in the public spotlight, negative representations and assumptions in the public sphere serve as obstacles to cultivating a tolerant, nurturing, and healthy school environment for all students.
Link to pdf of report: http://ca.cair.com/downloads/GrowingInFaith.pdf
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): http://www.cair.com/