Global awareness at Herrin Middle School targets misconceptions

By Gus Bode

Factoid:For more information or to participate, contact Naseem Ahmed at 453-5774

Michaelann Stanley teaches her sixth-graders about global issues and cultures. But the Herrin Middle School teacher said she does not feel confident enough to teach her students about the Muslim faith and its varying cultures.

“We don’t have a lot of diversity in our schools,” Stanley said. “With everything that’s been in the news since 9/11, the students are asking questions. When they go to Wal-Mart or the mall and see other Muslims and what the women wear, they just don’t understand it.”


So Stanley is relieved to hear a program is under way to assist her global awareness class.

Naseem Ahmed, SIUC international student adviser, expects the “Women and Leadership in the Muslim World:Unveiling the Misinformation” initiative made possible through a grant from the Association of International Educators will open up the dialogue and bolster closer ties between the international Muslim student population and SIUC’s surrounding community.

With a seven-member advisory committee, Ahmed said the project’s objective is to bring cultural knowledge of Muslims, especially Muslim women, to middle school students. The committee also wants to provide opportunities for SIUC students to connect with international Muslim students on a personal level as a means to grasp a deeper understanding of each other.

“I think it’s a double shame if we have them among us and we’re still wondering who they are,” Ahmed said.

During the weeklong International Festival, which begins Tuesday, the program will have an information table for those interested in learning about the project.

Ahmed said the project focuses particularly on Muslim women because they are most likely to deal with misconceptions and stereotypes of being “repressed and suppressed” when in fact there are prominent Muslim women leaders all over the world.

Most of the campus activities, including public forums and workshops, will coincide with commemoration of the upcoming Women’s History Month in March and Asian-American Awareness Month in April.


Rabia Bashir, a graduate student from Pakistan, is one of the participating Muslim students who will be paired up with an American student. At least two of Bashir’s best friends are American, which gives her motivation to “help facilitate this project and bridge the gap.”

“If you talk to a person at the beginning and then get to know that person further, it’s a completely different picture,” Bashir said. “It’s about knowing the person.”

Stanley, who is also on the advisory committee, fields questions from her students such as, “Why was that woman dressed like that?” and “What kind of a life does she have?”

With the launch of the new project, Stanley’s class will get its questions answered directly from visiting Muslim women later in the spring.

“These students are very curious,” Stanley said. “They’re just hearing about the world around them as sixth-graders.”

Reporter Jane Huh can be reached at [email protected]