Q&A: Moussa Magassa, PhD student in Curriculum and Instruction

Portrait of Moussa Magassa

What is your research about?

My research is about Islamophobia and the experiences of Muslim students with prejudice and discrimination on Canadian university campuses.

What inspires you to work in this area? How did you become interested in this topic in the first place?

As a Muslim and a human being, I believe in a specific message of Islam: peace. However, I noticed how little is known or appreciated about this key aspect of the religion, by most people. Since the events of 9/11, I have become more and more interested to understand Islamophobia, and especially on university campuses, as a pervasive and prevalent societal phenomenon.

What are the gaps in your field that you are aiming to fill with your research?

There is not much of a body of research on Muslim students’ experiences of prejudice and discrimination on Canadian university campuses. Most of the dominant research about Muslims in Canada has so far only focused on the media representation and stereotyping of Muslims and other racial minorities in Canada post-9/11. To the best of my knowledge, my study is the first of its kind to help develop an overall understanding of Muslim students’ experiences of prejudice and discrimination, and their intersections with other forms of discrimination based on race, gender, and nationality. My research also investigates how these experiences contribute to creating barriers, constraints, and a lack of opportunities in students’ social relations with peers, university personnel, and communities both within and outside campus.

What kinds of questions are you asking in your research?

How do Muslim students – from different ethnic, cultural, social and religious backgrounds – experience prejudice and discrimination in their academic and social life at UVic? What policies and practices contribute to and support healthy relations between Muslim students and faculty, staff, and the community? What contributes to Muslim students’ academic success and social integration at UVic? I also ask whether the prejudice and discrimination target students because of their ethnic, cultural, social, and religious backgrounds; and how prejudice and discrimination affect Muslim students’ learning and social integration on campus.

How do you see your research making a positive impact in our world?

My research will provide practical recommendations to universities for service delivery, policy, programs, and educational curriculum development that support healthy relations between students, and welcoming and inclusive learning environments. Muslim students, as a major global category in our internationalization discourses and processes, are one of the main economic groups that contribute to the success of our universities in North America.

Describe a challenge you have experienced in your PhD program so far.

A key challenge I have and continue to experience in my PhD program is financial. I am currently so much in debt that I am weighing my options as to whether to continue next Fall semester!

Tell us about your community.

I am a member of diverse African, Muslim, immigrant, and francophone communities. We are great communities in that we really strive to be a part of this society. However, I should recognize that often times, some people in my communities feel like we are constantly rendered invisible in academia and in society. Racism, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant prejudice, and discrimination based on language and accent, are common experiences for many of us, especially at UVic. In Canada, there is even a legal and institutional term for us: ‘visible minority’!

Is there hope? Yes, because we are working hard to change these attitudes and behaviors towards people like us.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

My personal philosophy is rooted in the African concept of ‘Ubuntu’, based on the concept of our common humanity and responsibility towards each other as human beings belonging to groups and social networks. As ‘Ubuntu’, my life is only meaningful because it is dependent on my relationships with other beings, and the understanding that the spiritual and physical worlds are interconnected. I am part of a local and global ‘WE’. As human beings, we justify, explain and validate each other’s realities and place in the world and in the continuous flow of time, humanly conceived as past, present, and future, or into the questions of who we are, have been, will become, and have become. Ubuntu, as I conceive it, is also about peace, respect for human rights, human dignity, and social justice: the only sustainable alternatives to our survival as human beings interconnected to everything else.