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Post-Sept. 11, Muslim Students Increasingly Hyperconscious of Their Identity

The post-Sept. 11 experience of being subjected to discrimination and negative media attention has made Muslim students in New York City’s public schools increasingly conscious of their religious identity and brought them closer together, according to a recent study by researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University.

“These kids are hyperconscious of being Muslim whether they are religious or not,” says Dr. Louis Cristillo, who co-led the three-year study. “It’s as if they’re another racial group — ‘the Muslims.’ They themselves will say ‘the Muslims’ and ‘the Americans’ and ‘the White folks.’ But that hyperconsciousness has not been imposed upon them in their schools. It’s generated by the constant news coverage of their religion, typically framed by very negative coverage.”

The study, “Muslim Youth in New York City Public Schools: Religiosity, Education and Civic Belonging,” surveyed more that 600 Muslim and non-Muslim students and found that Muslim youth in public schools have high self-esteem, perform better than or comparable to their non-Muslim peers and are active in extracurricular activities.

While New York’s Muslim students have been able to adjust to the post-Sept. 11 environment, some of their non-Muslim classmates have not done so well, the study states. Seventeen percent of the city’s Muslim students, most of whom are of African-American, Arab or South Asian ancestry, reported being the subject of bigotry, often in the form of anti-Islam taunting or being called a “terrorist.” Arab students are twice as likely to be the subject of such actions, and girls more often than boys.

On Wednesday, Teachers College held a conference, “Muslim Youth in NYC Public Schools,” where the study’s results were discussed. The conference also launched the book, This Is Where I Need to Be: Oral Histories of Muslim Youth in New York City, a collection of interviews by Muslim students.

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