In Word and Deed: Augsburg College in Support of Muslim Students, Colleagues, Neighbors

 

Sisterhood logoAcross the Minnesota Campus Compact network, campuses and communities are questioning how to engage productively, ethically, and inclusively around issues of race, religion, violence, and the sustainability of our way of life on this planet. While each day seems to offer a new reminder that this is an unsettled world and the path toward a more just and equitable future a difficult one, there is cause for hope. Communities are living resilience in the face of fear, and higher education partners are positioning themselves as allies, aligning institutional resources with the goals of communities. Recently, the Augsburg College faculty issued the following statement:

Augsburg College Faculty Resolution in Support of our Muslim Students, Colleagues and Neighbors
Whereas: Divisive and unfounded accusations about the Faith of Islam and Muslim people everywhere have been widely publicized in our nation and,
Whereas: Some national political leaders have recently made heinous, false, and inflammatory claims about the Faith of Islam and Muslim people in the United States and worldwide and,
Whereas: Such statements represent bigotry, fear mongering and demagoguery that is dangerous to American democracy, undermines efforts to prevent terrorism, sows fear, sadness and distrust within our communities, and incites hate and violence toward peaceful, valued members of our campus and community,
Therefore, the Augsburg College Faculty stands resolved that: statements of prejudice and hate against the Faith of Islam should be condemned and vocally opposed, and moreover, we express our deep support, love and friendship for the Muslim members of our campus, community and world.
–Approved by the Augsburg College faculty, December 10, 2015

Faculty and staff at the college make this commitment real through myriad practices and partnerships in a range of disciplines and roles, including the shared work between the Sisterhood Boutique and a Management Information Systems (MIS) course.  The Sisterhood Boutique is a second-hand clothing store and youth social entrepreneurship program developed by young women, a majority East African and Muslim, living in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. The young women describe the project on their website:

“Participants [in this youth social entrepreneurship program] decided they wanted to build something positive for other girls and women in the neighborhood, and the Sisterhood Boutique was born. Young women involved with the program are learning a variety of personal and professional skills from business development to event planning, while the colorful variety of clothing and accessories available at the shop provide[s] affordable clothing options for residents of the neighborhood.”

Augsburg College, just across the street from the Sisterhood, has been an ally from the start. The advocacy of Mary Laurel True, Director of Service Learning and Community Engagement, resulted in Fairview Hospital’s donation of a storefront location. The academic civic engagement of students at the college includes Professor Marc Isaacson’s MIS e-commerce course. In addition to working with other organizations like the Somali Youth League, Isaacson’s students consulted with the Sisterhood’s youth to pitch digital marketing tools, including website, social media, and video strategies that could expand the store’s reach and fundraising capacity. Yasameen Sajady, Youth Social Entrepreneur Operations Coordinator for Pillsbury United Communities, supports the Sisterhood’s youth participants. She said that she didn’t know whether the e-commerce students would have recommendations that fit the Sisterhood’s needs because “we’re such a unique enterprise,” but she was excited to find that “some of them were ideas we could use!”

The Augsburg students proposed easy-to-use platforms like Tumblr, and Sajady said the storefront imageSisterhood’s youth “realized that it was do-able. . . .We did it on our own and launched a [web] site a month after the project.” Going forward, Sajady sees more opportunities for collaboration: “Now I know what to ask for. They’re actually helping us launch a fundraising campaign for next year. It’s been something the youth have wanted for a while, and the [Augsburg] class is helping with marketing.” She notes that after getting to know the organization, college students have also learned “how to advocate for us,” helping to get the word out about the Sisterhood in their own circles.

Isaacson notes a real benefit for his students too: they’re exposed to work with nonprofits and social entrepreneurship in ways that they might not be otherwise, and they experience the enhanced motivation that comes from collaborating with outside partners. Isaacson has been pleased to see his students “very engaged” in their work with projects like this one, and he plans to open his classes to more projects with other small neighborhood businesses.

All the while, other faculty members across the college are deepening their engagement through similar commitments. On an institutional level, the College is taking steps to increase the community’s access to higher education, offering scholarships to young Sisterhood Boutique program participants who enroll at Augsburg. With the faculty’s earlier statement in mind, it’s clear that this partnership is about more than website design. In this collaboration, young people are learning to work across difference, and faculty and staff are leveraging their academic assets to advance a social commitment — both bringing a more just and equitable future within closer reach.  As this campus and others continue to grapple with the tensions pulling communities apart, perhaps this is a reminder of what holds us together.

— Sinda Nichols, Minnesota Campus Compact