In the Student Union Theatre Wednesday evening, Sarah Harvard, a reporter and staff writer at MIC, led a lecture that discussed Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims in America. As a Muslim American, Harvard discussed her own experiences and the struggles she faced growing up, including feelings of unwantedness. “Not only am I blamed for Pearl Harbor, I’m blamed for 9/11,” Harvard said, “This is a scary reality… 51 percent of Americans agree with banning Muslims in America.”
Born in America to Japanese and Moroccan parents, Harvard moved to Japan at a young age where Japanese became her first language. She moved back to Chicago shortly after where she spent the remainder of her childhood. She described how her whole world changed after 9/11, when she was only eight-years-old. She recalls her childhood being over, losing friends and struggling with her religious identity.
“It was a constant battle between defending my faith and not being persecuted in class,” said Harvard. Her family eventually changed their last name and she was told to not defend Islam or publicly identify as Muslim, something that affected her deeply. “My identity was robbed from me,” she said.
Harvard turned to writing and journalism as an outlet, deciding to speak out for the voiceless. In high school, she wrote for her school’s newspaper and wrote many pieces about Islamophobia, something that made her face a lot of criticism but also presented her with many opportunities, such as writing for the Chicago Tribune. She went on to create her own publication and interviewed many prominent US figures such as Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz.
Harvard also discussed systemic violence towards Muslims. She presented a preview for the documentary “The Feeling of Being Watched,” which discusses stories of Muslim Americans under surveillance by the FBI post-9/11. Harvard explained a sense of paranoia among Muslims, who are scared to voice their opinions or to even be able to trust their neighbors. She explained the sadness she and many other Muslims have experienced and continue to experience as they grow up in a time where their true identity and feeling of being an American is compromised by hate.
As a journalist of color, Harvard understands the truths of Islam and continues to report on Islamophobia and hate crimes, which she described as taxing, but rewarding. She ended the lecture by explaining how important it is for allies to educate peers and stand up against the hate. She closed by stating she has hope for the future and knows that there are more and more people and allies out there who care.
Following the lecture, guests moved to the Student Union Ballroom where there was a Q&A with Harvard and a dinner that included festive holiday music and decorations. The lecture reminded listeners that during the time of year where people are celebrating and enjoying holiday cheer, there is still a lot of people who cannot celebrate their own holidays and are not fully accepted in America. “It was very eye-opening,” said Gabby Rago, an undeclared freshman, “I was aware of all the Islamophobia in America, but it is especially eye-opening to hear the first-hand experiences people have had.”
Melissa Scrivani is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.