UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Identities of Arab Muslim graduate students : spaces, discourses, and practices at a Canadian university Qutub, Bayan Naif


Arab Muslim graduate students in Canadian universities continue to grow in large numbers; however, this group of students face several challenges related to their cultural and religious identity. This phenomenological study examines the lived experiences of 10 Arab Muslim graduate students at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada. Particularly, in this research I sought to understand how these students describe their cultural and religious identity and how they experience their cultural and religious identity construction within the context of the university, including its spaces, discourses, and practices. Two main questions concern the study: 1. What are the individual perceptions of Arab Muslim graduate students on the construction of their cultural and religious identity within UBC? 2. How do Arab Muslim graduate students perceive the university’s spaces, discourses, and practices in (de)constructing their cultural and religious identities? Findings show that these students face several challenges on-campus. Arab Muslim graduate students face academic challenges in adopting to the Canadian learning environment. All female students reported facing discriminative remarks related to their cultural and religious identity sometime during their stay in Canada. In addition, students with families were limited in their participation at the non-academic activities in UBC. Furthermore, Arab Muslim graduate students understand their cultural identities in relation to religion, nationality, and culture. However, some had essentialist views while others had constructivist views. Despite the differences, students expressed similar needs for religious and cultural integration on-campus. Students also revealed that the university’s policies, dialogues, and personnel advocate diversity and student empowerment at the individual level. However, there is a need for the university to empower and support Arab Muslim students as a group. The Muslim Students Association (MSA) as well as students’ clubs play a role in integrating the religious and cultural identities for some Arab Muslim Graduate students. Finally, the study recommends that the university should offer “small acts of kindness” including providing distributed prayer places on campus, providing a cultural Islamic center, including Muslim students among the diversity initiatives, and raising awareness on-campus about Islamophobia to make the campus a safe and inclusive space for all minority students.

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