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RapidChat: Shukri Bana on growing up Muslim in post-9/11 America, feminism, empowering youth & more

Post 9/11, growing up Muslim in the United States has posed some unique challenges for Shukri Bana. From a young age, there was an intense pressure to not be seen or read as a threat. Voicelessness was one of her biggest fears, but she has since gone on to learn that there is no such thing—and she's working to make sure others understand the same.
Shukri Bana

Post-9/11, growing up Muslim in the United States has posed some unique challenges for Shukri Bana. From a young age, there was an intense pressure to not be seen or read as a threat. Voicelessness was one of her biggest fears, but she has since gone on to learn that there is no such thing—and she's working to make sure others understand the same.
Rapid Growth Media: As a recent GVSU graduate majoring in Women and Gender Studies, what has been one of the biggest takeaways from your education?

Shukri Bana: In that space, I’ve learned to continue to question how we define education and knowledge, and the ways we as a society value particular kinds of knowledge and education over others. While I can recognize the ostensible value in a formal education and know it is a place of privilege, my degree has taught me to question what the university represents when we're talking about it as a real, living thing.

Another big take away for me personally was learning the importance of fiction as an articulation of feminist theory. I was also an English minor, and felt like in the Women and Gender Studies department, I could finally do the literary analysis I really wanted to do. I was able to do the independent research I wanted without being held back by subscribing to particular theories or being limited to the American literary canon.

RG: When did this subject matter first pique your interest?

SB: As a freshman, I was looking for a place where the knowledge I had of the world based on how I lived in it would be valued as much as my ability to think and write critically about it. I always wanted to be in a space that was ever-changing, and having the freedom to think and pull from various disciplines drew me to where I was at the university. It was also important for me to feel genuinely engaged in all aspects of my life even at school; more than anything I needed to be in a space where I could respond fully to what I was studying while also acknowledging the work I was doing outside the classroom. I needed to be in a space where thinking, reading, writing, crying, screaming, and laughing could happen simultaneously.

RG: So it was the university that helped you discover this passion of yours?

I spent a lot of my young adulthood tip-toeing around the word feminism and feeling a feminist rage growing in me—I remember feeling all these things and like I didn't have the language for it, and sitting in a classroom for the first time and finding the vocabulary to name these experiences was life changing. I also realized I'd been thinking about and feeling this rage my whole life and experiencing various feminist responses to it from all the women and people in my life, but finding a place of study that gives name to and theorizes those experiences was so life changing.

RG: Do you feel that these social issues are being appropriately discussed within the classroom setting?

SB: The [Women and Gender Studies] program at Grand Valley really stresses the importance of the fact that what is going on in the university is always a reflection of what is happening in the real world, and vice versa. The great thing about our program is it is definitely situated in the real world. I remember discussing and watching the election in our classrooms and having many conversations about the implications for us, and I remember discussing how U.S. foreign policy impacts countries like Syria or analyzing other countries foreign policies. There was no separation between what we did in the university and what was happening outside, because for us and how we study, there isn't.

RG: On top of your recent bachelor’s degree, you were also awarded a coveted Fulbright scholarship to South Africa. What program you will be participating in?

SB: I was! I will be serving as an English Teaching Assistant in South Africa for nine months beginning in January 2018. I'll be working in a secondary school, which nicely mirrors the Summer study abroad I participated in with the Women and Gender Studies department at GVSU in 2016.

RG: What do you hope to gain from your involvement?

SB: Given the political climate in both America and South America right now and the way they closely mirror and reflect one another, I am most excited to see the way youth are responding and making themselves and their presence and dissent known. The classroom should not exist separately from the rest of the wold, so I'm looking forward to see how that materializes in South Africa. Afterwards, I plan on pursuing a graduate degree in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, which will be deeply informed by my experiences working with youth and global interactions with activism and activists.

RG: What has been one of the biggest driving forces in your life, that ultimately led you down this path?

SB: Voicelessness was one of my biggest personal fears growing up, and now I know that there is no such thing—I am deeply committed to making sure people are listened to, which for me, materializes in working with youth and ensuring that the notion of voicelessness is not something that becomes embedded in anyone at a young age.

RG: What do you think instilled that fear in you?

SB: That came from many places for me, but I know growing up Muslim post 9/11, I felt an intense pressure to be not seen or read as a threat, and I carried that with me for most of my early adulthood. I'm also pathologically shy, which made it all more difficult.

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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