Getting it Right: Muslims, their stories, and your news staffs

Students do “poster sessions” in class putting a writing-and-graphics approach to their encounter with someone of another culture and language. The whiteboard poster practice led to a final poster session where they had to combine the story of their own ethnic journey with the ones they found in their feature reporting and writing.

Campus media can tell stories of Muslims in ways that help build better understanding of life for these students

By Michael A. Longinow
Biola University

Syed Rizwan Farook walked the campus of California State University in San Bernardino like any other student. Friends remember him as quiet but friendly. He was smart. He finished high school early by testing out of requirements. He made the dean’s list at CSUSB and earned an undergraduate degree in 2010 in environmental health, according to the campus university’s newspaper. But five years later, he and his wife, a woman he’d met on a Muslim pilgrimage in the Middle East, took automatic weapons into a holiday party at a county services building and killed 14 people, wounding 21 others before being killed themselves in a gun battle with police, according to the Washington Post.

Newsweek called this young man and his wife “Terror’s New Face.” Each had, in their own way, taken center stage as a “homegrown extremist.” And the result, on college campuses, was a renewed set of fears about danger and risk from students based on what they look like, what they believe, and where they — or their family — grew up, according to coverage Dec. 5 in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Can campus media stop radicalization of Muslims on their campuses, or nearby? Can it, all by itself, bridge the chasms of suspicion between Muslim students and those on American campuses nationwide? Probably not. But it can tell the stories of Muslims in ways that help build better understanding of life for these students. And the time for that is now — or yesterday.

There is no easy fix for campus newspapers to report on, write about, and provide ongoing coverage of Muslims in the Post-San Bernardino era. And the steps might seem easy. What makes them difficult is more a matter of the mind and heart than of technique.

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