I teach at a faith-based university, one that identifies itself as particularly Baptist and broadly Judeo-Christian. What this means exactly is often the subject of much debate, but it’s been clear to me after 8 years of teaching that this identity is not a requirement of the students. Based on student self-report this past Fall there were 74 Buddhist, 98 Hindu, and 117 Muslim students out of 12,575 undergrads. It’s not much but these numbers are large enough for student groups to function and provide support for one another in an environment that may seem somewhat alienating depending on how often they are exposed to the rhetoric of being in a Christian university. As someone who studies race and ethnic relations, the experience of being a minority whether racial or religious often carries with it certain patterns of experience. One doesn’t quite feel fully a part of one’s social surroundings, one is aware that he or she stands out in some ways. (I can say this in particular as a non-white faculty person where all of us account for 11% of 935 fulltimers).
But one of the serious challenges that one faces as a minority is the threat of violence from those who harbor ill feelings toward one’s core identity. This was the case back in 2006, when one of our Muslim students was assaulted on campus. The incident reached major news outlets and became the topic of a televised pseudo-experiment called What Would You Do. (Back then there were 66 Buddhists, 76 Hindus, and 114 Muslims out of 11,831 undergrads in case you were wondering). Perhaps it seems obvious but when one is part of a minority, one is more susceptible to discrimination. But the way this works at least with respect to the 0.6% of Americans who identify themselves as Muslims is a little more complicated.
One of the “most requested” research studies from my top 11 from ’11 addressed this very issue. Using Census county-level data and data from the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) which records hate crimes that were picked up by the FBI, sociologists Ilir Disha, James Cavendish and Ryan King investigated the possible causes of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate crimes between 1995 and 2005. They made use of “group threat theory” (dominant groups in society assert control by resorting to violence or the threat of violence toward outgroups that are seen as an economic threat) and “power differential theory” (majority group members act when they are ensured that there will be no retaliation) to explain how these hate crimes happen. Here are some of the main highlights:
-The UCR uses a single-bias count when recording these crimes, but as it turns out, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim crime reports overlap a great deal in location, where the one happens, so does the other.
-The number of reported anti-black (>2500 per year) and anti-Jewish (>800) hate crimes are much higher than anti-Arab (>300) and anti-Muslim (>100) violence ; this is due in part to the size of the minority group we are referring to (12% African American, 1.7% Jewish, 0.6% Muslim)
-anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked in 2001 (1502 and 481 cases) and returned to a lower (but still elevated) level.
-while these types of crimes increased since 9/11, anti-black, Asian and Hispanic crimes went down (from 2001 to 2005).
-the causes of anti Arab/Muslim hate crimes were pretty much the same before and after 9/11 – so why did the crimes spike? Disha et al argue that it was the association of the terrorist attacks with Arab and Muslim identity which became a catalyst for those that wanted to inflict hate.
-“…individuals of Arab descent are at a lower risk of victimization in counties where they constitute a larger proportion of the population.” (37). The same is true for anti-Muslim hate crime. Notably in places where there is an extremely large proportion of whites and an extremely small proportion of Arabs/Muslims, hate crime incidence goes up.
This sounds paradoxical right? Disha et al. provide a helpful example of how this paradoxical pattern works out: more anti-Arab hate crimes were reported in Wayne County, MI which was 2.7% Arab in 2001. They reported 27 hate crimes or 48 offenses per 100,000 Arabs. By contrast, Hennepin County, MN had 21 hate crimes reported, but their Arab population is 4,832. This amounts to about 434 hate crimes per 100,000 Arabs – 9 times higher. As you can see, higher risk of an individual experiencing a hate crime occurs in places where they are a micro-minority, even though the raw number of hate crimes is almost about the same in both places.
So this study provides support for the power differential view that members of dominant or majority groups inflict violence when they are pretty certain there is no pushback. This idea brings me back to the religious minority students that attend Baylor. Any of these students that experiences bias on this campus (even when it’s not by another student as was the case in 2006) must rely on an institution that represents a dominant religious group, perhaps the same religious group that the assailant might proudly claim allegiance. Universities like Baylor have an important challenge then to espouse Christian values such as advocating for marginalized and vulnerable non-Christian minorities over and against those who also claim the Christian faith and use violence upon these individuals or groups.
In contrast, Christian institutions can also further amplify the marginalization of religious minorities as has happened recently at the high school level (which was brought to my attention on Facebook). Both relate to the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools or TAPPS. This is largely a network of schools that allow students to compete in athletics in a manner similar to the NCAA and other organized sports groups. These schools all have in common the designation of being private and/or parochial. As these news reports show, the leadership of TAPPS has effectively asserted its Christian dominance on minority religious schools by requiring performance by Jewish student athletes on their holy day, and by administering an ignorant religious test to a Muslim school and subsequently denying them entry into the system.
In the Orthodox Jewish case, TAPPS first rejected the appeal by the Jewish school to reschedule and rescinded its rejection under legal pressure. (This reminds me of the case of Eric Liddell, a Protestant Christian, who was noted to have not performed in a major Olympic event due to its scheduling on Sunday). In the latter, no lawsuit has been filed and the drama I suspect is not quite over. We have then an example of how a religious organization of the dominant faith in the US asserts itself over religious minorities in ways that parallel the kind of pattern identified in hate crimes. Of course these are not equivalent, but I ask readers whether TAPPS behavior toward these religious minorities would have been different if there was a larger presence of Jews or Muslims in Houston and Texas generally? And what Christian values are espoused through organized bullying and intimidation of young athletes who are part of a religious minority in America (and more so in Texas)?