By Grace George
Muslim Student Association (MSA) president Kiran Waqar thinks the most important issue surrounding the upcoming national election is not related to policy; it’s trauma-informed voting.
“There can be a lot of power in voting, but also the trauma that comes with voting,” Waqar said. “[We should be] holding space for that [conversation] and making sure that we’re not shaming people into voting, but making sure that we can feel our humanity in the process of civic engagement.”
Waqar is a junior studying sociology, Arabic and transcultural studies. She plans to vote by mail in November, but she is concerned with how people in her community will find spaces to discuss trauma-informed voting, or voting with an understanding of how the ballot and choosing a candidate can be traumatic.
“For a lot of people voting is a form of power; it’s a form of expressing your voice and stuff like that,” Waqar said. “But also, for a lot of people, voting can be kind of painful.”
The Democratic nominee is tied to a past administration marked by its foreign policy in the Middle East, and the Republican nominee has implemented immigration bans which disproportionately affect majority-Muslim countries. Thinking about the choice between these two on the national ballot, Muslim students find themselves in an uncomfortable position, Waqar said.
As president of MSA, Waqar seeks to provide a space for Muslim students to contemplate political and personal issues. The campus organization has continued to host weekly discussion groups, engage with followers on social media and connect with Muslim student groups on other college campuses as pandemic shutdowns have forced everything online.
“It’s actually kind of crazy because, even though we’re online, like, Alhamdulillah, we’ve been able to still connect with people all over,” Waqar said.
MSA is an important space for Muslim students on campus to feel advocated for and affirmed by others with shared experiences when they face Islamophia inside and outside of class, Waqar said. In 2018, the group was even able to push the University to create a halal section in the Terrace Dining Room.
The University can do more for its Muslim students, but the systemic nature of Islamophobia on college campuses makes it difficult to see solutions, Waqar said. Waqar instead turns to her community to inform those around her and enact change at the individual level.
“It’s part of our role as Muslims to seek out knowledge and seek out justice,” Waqar said.
For Waqar, MSA is a source of joy and inspiration during uncertain times. She believes remaining present and optimistic is the key to changemaking, even when the present is frustrating and scary.
“I think the human spirit is really resilient, and I think that the work that needs to be done has to be done from a place of joy and a place of optimism,” Waqar said. “Because if we’re only fighting against what we don’t want to see, we’re never going to know what we want.”