executive summary

Through this report, the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIRCA) seeks to provide context to the socio-political climate in which American Muslims attend school. Specifically, it discusses how Islamophobia, the fear or hatred of Islam and Muslims, in larger society filters into the school environment and manifests as teacher discrimination and student bullying. The consequences of encountering Islamophobia at school are numerous. Muslim students may feel marginalized, disempowered, and begin to internalize negative stereotypes. Minority students who feel disconnected or alienated from the school environment will lack confidence, suffer academically, and fail to fully invest in their future.

The report also presents the results of a 2014 follow-up to a 2012 CAIR-CA survey. The purpose of the survey was twofold, to understand how comfortable American Muslim students felt attending their schools and participating in classroom discussions, and discover to what extent American Muslim students were subjected to bias-based bullying and harassment at school. In 2014 CAIR-CA offices surveyed 621 students statewide. The survey was given to American Muslim students between the ages of 11 and 18 who were enrolled in public and non-Muslim private schools in California.

It is important to keep in mind that this survey looks at the American Muslim community primarily through a religious lens. While the American Muslim community in the United States is extremely diverse in terms of race, national and ethnic origin, being native-born or an immigrant, and socioeconomic status, this report does not take into account the intersectionality of these different backgrounds or assess which ones are primarily responsible in shaping the specific experiences of American Muslim students. It provides only a cursory analysis of how those with certain demographic characteristics may experience religion-based student bullying and teacher discrimination. The CAIRCA survey results demonstrate that the American Muslim students’ experience is clearly affected by their religious identity. However, much more work is needed to examine how the convergence of their various identities affects their experience with bullying and discrimination.

Ultimately 55% of the American Muslim students surveyed reported being subjected to some form of bullying based on their religious identity. This is twice as high as the national statistic of students reporting being bullied at school. Many students experienced multiple types of bullying; however, the most common type of bullying American Muslim students faced was verbal at 52%.

CAIR-CA also considered gender-based differences in survey responses. Remarkably, more male students reported experiencing bullying. However, the percentage of females who reported experiencing discrimination by a teacher or administrator was slightly higher. Of the female respondents who wear a hijab, the Islamic headscarf, 29% reported being offensively touched by another student, and 27% reported being discriminated by their teacher.

There were also two key findings in the students’ responses to questions about their feelings regarding their school environment. The percentage of students who reported feeling that they were comfortable participating in class discussions about Islam or countries where Muslims live decreased 4 by 4 percentage points, from 80% in 2012 to 76% in 2014. Moreover, only 67% of students felt teachers and administrators were responsive to their religious accommodation requests. American Muslim youth continue to identify student-teacher relations as needing improvement. Many students’ comments referenced increased problems in the classroom during discussions about 9/11, mainly due to teachers either failing to address harassment by other students against Muslim students or discriminating against Muslim students themselves.

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