Earlier this semester, an event was held that strived for creating safer spaces on campus for Black Muslim women. Titled “Black Muslimah Magic,” the event was the brainchild of Nasma Ahmed, a public policy student in her final year, and Samira Warsame, a fourth-year student in the international development studies and city studies programs. Facilitated with the assistance of the Equity and Diversity Office and community-based organization Pomegranate Tree Group, the space was used to focus on healing and self-care.
Most importantly, the space was used to discuss, in full-confidentiality, the difficulty of experiencing anti-Black racism and Islamophobia within classrooms, from both students and faculty. Earlier this month, St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU) faced criticism after videos celebrating the 22nd birthday of the union’s former vice-president, Joseph Crimi, originally recorded on Snapchat were made public. Recorded by Kevin Vando, the newly elected vice-president who has since resigned, former SMCSU Councillor Sara Gonsalves recited the lyrics of Estelle’s “American Boy” and replaced it with “Muslim Boy.” In another video, Gonsalves is shown reading a book called Islam for Dummies. Though the incident took place on the downtown campus, it is still very indicative of the work that needs to be done so that the overall campus climate is an anti-oppressive and Islamophobic-free place.
“I think the first step is to recognize that we are here. Black Muslim women exist on campus, often our blackness is ignored,” says Ahmed. “Listen to what we say when we speak, don’t come in with sweeping judgements because of something you casually read online. There is so much to say about what can be done structurally… we are still figuring out what that looks like.”
Amongst connecting with other women and finding ways to heal, Warsame shares, “We had breathing activities and games. It was just a lot of getting to know each other [and meeting] other Black Muslim women on campus that we can connect with later on…other than that, we had a board where everybody, at first, [said] their self-care tips but then we had it written down and put them on the board, so whoever wanted to, [could] take pictures of it [for] later.”
The event also focused on the intersection of faith and self care. Some of the tips the women shared were: “Reading, writing, going for walks, taking pictures…because we’re Muslim as well [we mentioned] prayer [and] meditation,” shares Warsame. Additionally, Ahmed adds the space was also used as a catalyst for the women to “[Think] about what it means to be Black at U of T; our experiences on campus and how to survive academia as Black women.”
Warsame shares that the event was received well from attendees and on the likelihood of its reoccurrence, mentions that she is “Sure we’ll have more spaces like that soon…My dream literally is to literally have every single Black man and woman [from each campus] get together and maybe have an all day conference, or regularly meet up to have this community for ourselves. A lot of the time we are marginalized from our communities that we are a part of, so it’s kind of like, we have to figure out which intersection we should belong to, when that shouldn’t be the case.”
With luck, funding and support, similar events will occur on campus to continue the dialogue and make UTSC the equitable space it is meant to be .