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Muslims at Bryn Mawr / Gender and Sexuality at Bryn Mawr

Ayesha Islam: Muslims at Bryn Mawr

Muslims at Bryn Mawr” would work to build institutional memory of the College's engagement with religion and religious discrimination, enabling future students to hold both themselves and the College community to higher standards of awareness and accountability both inside and outside the classroom dynamics. It would explore the experiences of Muslim students, faculty, and staff at the College from its founding in 1885 to present day.

To pursue this project, I would explore multiple avenues of conducting research. To gain a historical perspective of the College, I would visit Bryn Mawr College Special Collections and try delving into archived records relating to Muslims. Some points of inquiry I'd like to investigate through through the archives include, but are not limited to:

  • Who was the first Muslim student at Bryn Mawr?

    • What challenges did she face from the administration and/or from peers?

    • What was her experience like?

  • Who was the first hijabi Muslim student at Bryn Mawr?

  • When was the Muslim Students Association formed at Bryn Mawr?

    • How was the process behind establishing this club?

    • How much support did the idea of a Muslim Students Association garner?

  • What accommodations does Bryn Mawr have for practicing Muslims? (ie. Meals, space, prayers, activities, clothes, etc.)

    • Why don't the dining halls serve hot halal meals?

    • When and why did the dining halls start offering frozen halal food?

    • What is the history of students trying to get halal food in the dining halls?

      • Have people tried getting it before?

      • What have previous responses from dining services looked like?

  • When did Bryn Mawr start offering courses on Islam?

  • Was there an increase in discrimination against Muslims after 9/11?

  • Have there been recorded instances of tension between Muslims and other religious groups?

  • What is the history of Aelwyd and when did Muslims receive this space?

  • What percentage of Bryn Mawr students are Muslim in 2015?

  • What percentage of Bryn Mawr faculty are Muslim in 2015?

  • What percentage of Bryn Mawr staff are Muslim in 2015?

  • Who was the first Muslim professor?

  • What other religious groups are on campus?

    • When were they formed?

    • How much support did other groups receive from the administration/their peers?

 Aside from archival research, I also wish to conduct both in-person and online interviews with Muslim faculty and staff, students, and alumni. I intend on interviewing Bryn Mawr Muslim Students' Association board members and general members to gain insight on their experiences on campus, such as Co-Presidents Alizeh Amer and Mahira Tiwana. I also hope to interview the Muslim professors we have at Bryn Mawr, such as my hijabi Arabic professor Manar Darwish. Finally, I want to interview the hijabi Muslim alum who specifically told me that Bryn Mawr had a discriminatory administration before I even arrived.

I would be interested in exploring concepts of power, privilege, and oppression related to religion. I also want to demonstrate how history and contemporary studies can be used as tools for social justice and religious liberty on campus and beyond.

Aayzah Mirza: Sexuality and Islam at Bryn Mawr

On the other hand, I, Aayzah Mirza, would like to explore the notion of sexuality in reference to Islam. Back in my hometown in Lahore, Pakistan, I observed a lot of commotion on the legaliztion of gay marriages in the United States. There was a an ocean of opinions, with each individual's background and perception of their religion coloring their stance. As an institution with a relatively moderately sized Muslim population, Bryn Mawr would also be host to such differences in perspective, which makes this an interesting topic for me to explore.  

I would reach out to the Muslim Students Association and conduct interviews of willing members. The interviews would involve the following questions: 

1) What are your pronouns? 

2) What is your sexual orientation? 

3) What do you think are Islam's views on homosexuality? 

4) What are your views on the subject? 

5) If your are heterosexual yourself, do you have any friends/family members who are not heterosexual? 

6) If so, can you tell me what you think about this aspect of their personality? 

7) What are the general views of Muslims about sexuality in your hometown? 

8) What do you have to say about sexuality in relation to Bryn Mawr? Are there any experiences in particular that make you feel the way you do? 

Along with Muslim interviewees, I would also reach out to Spectra, and ask members the first four aforementioned questions along with the following ones: 

1) Have you ever had a discussion with any Muslim student on campus about sexuality? 

2) Can you recall any instance where a negative exchange occurred between a non heterosexual and a Muslim student because of conflicting ideas about sexuality? 

Furthermore, I would conduct some general research on sexuality as perceived by various Islamic scholars, to provide a rudimentary framework for the project.  





jccohen's picture

Ai97 and aayzahmirza,

In some ways yours seems to me an inherently intersectional investigation:  since Bryn Mawr is a women’s school, and also has a diverse history and present in terms of sexualities, I imagine that you’ll encounter information and perspectives that speak to the intersections of these identity dimensions in the course of your investigation.  And given that you’re now looking for such intersections, you’re in a sense part of formulating an approach that acknowledges the complexity of identities.

A few other observations/suggestions/questions:

While the intersectionality is evident, I also see how ai97’s proposal entails a broader set of questions/investigations; how about shaping your collaboration to accommodate for both overlap and distinct lines of research?

Ai97, as you consider your questions, it might be helpful to organize them at least somewhat in terms of methodology; that is, what are your “streams” of investigation here – what will you seek in the library, in interviews, and so forth?  I think this may help you consider where to start looking, and also who to talk with in your initial interviews.  You probably will want to reach out to Vanessa Christman or Stephanie Nixon at Pennsby, and also to someone in the dining halls, perhaps Bernie Chung.


Anne Dalke's picture

Ayesha and Aayzah—
I’m very excited by the intersection of your two projects: I think Ayesha’s archival work, and current interviews, will provide a great framework for the more focused questions that Aayzah wants to ask.

I’m thinking that your best contact for archival work will be Evan McGonagill, who is a recent graduate of the English Department here, and now Acting College Archivist; her email is ---but let Jody and me confer first, to see what other archival projects might be in the works among your classmates; we might need to approach Evan about all of them @ once…and we’ll need to think together about a reasonable framework for this project: how much historical work will you be able to do within the next six weeks?

Until we can get some of this set up, I’d suggest your going ahead with interviewing the folks you’ve already identified, and then working backwards to get some historical grounding: you’ve certainly got a wonderful list of questions laid out!

I’m curious about the degree to which you two might coordinate this work; Ayesha hopes to interview the MSA co-presidents, Alizeh Amer and Mahira Tiwana; Aayzah says she also wants to interview “willing members” of the MSA. Do you imagine these as separate interviews, or overlapping ones…?( You’ll want to be considerate of folks’ time for this project…)

I’m also very much liking Aayzah’s idea of doing comparative interviews with the co-presidents of Spectra. I’ve taught both Kelsey Weymouth- Little and Meera Jayaraman (have also been conferring with them a lot recently re: the upcoming LBGTQIA+ month events….), and would be very glad to give you an introduction! I’m also curious to know if some folks have overlapping memberships in both Spectra and MSA; that would be interesting to find out…

In preparation for those interviews, I think you might do some of the historical and theoretical research first, Aayzah, to get a better grounding in the history of your questions overall. What will you plan to read? Starting this week….?


jccohen's picture

These are notes from my conversation with Evan McGonagill, the college archivist, about ai97's topic:

You are unlikely to find much in the archives on this, since religion is really not well recorded.  Instead, do a contemporary focus – great to start to create an archive now…  Some ideas on how to proceed with some of your questions:

How does SGA keep their records, and might they have funding records that would recognize creation of Muslim student group? 

Could look at course guides for info on when BMC started offering courses on Islam. 

Look at Bi-Co News for material on MSA and/or other mentions of relevant material:  Online stuff only 2007-present – available at  Earlier issues you can find on Archive-It (internet archives) and before that paper copies and microfilm.  We don’t collect religion for professors, though we might for students; if so, might get this info through conversation with someone in Admissions.