Dr Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor is a Feminist Sociologist of Religion, and Assistant Professor and Research Group Lead for Faith and Peaceful Relations at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University, UK.
University is frequently considered an appropriate receptacle to inculcate staff and students with a positive projection of diversity – from which global citizens will emerge whose appreciation of difference, could contribute to a brighter future for humanity. Dr Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor’s précis of her current baseline research within British university campuses drew attention to how this operates in practice by examining student’s perceptions of their university/college environments. It sought to elicit different manifestations of diversity and considered both problems arising on campus and possible recommendations and solutions to such issues surrounding harassment and discrimination. The specific OfS project examined categories of religious/belief hate crime and discrimination. Diversity was understood through four forms: passive diversity, active diversity, fragmented diversity and pluralist diversity, with the latter providing the direction universities needed to charter.
As part of this analysis the similarities and differences between Christian and Muslim experiences of negotiating a faith-based identity on campus were outlined. A general climate of prejudice was described where both subtle and blatant forms of discrimination and unfair treatment arose. In some cases, for Muslim students, the negative impact of being on the receiving end of such treatment deterred students from accessing welfare services for fear of triggering unwanted scrutiny, suspicion and attention. One example was cited of an academic refusing to answer questions from a niqab wearing student. The findings determined that the Muslim faith colleges provided the safest and least prejudiced environment conducive to harmony and pluralist diversity.
The lecture was enhanced by the input of Coventry University Muslim Chaplain, a Markfield Institute alumni chaplaincy graduate, Serazul Alam, who provided a range of direct evidence of the type of issues confronting students. A robust question and answer session followed which was engaging and discursive.