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Stanford to open Muslim resource center next year

Stanford will open a Muslim resource center at the start of the 2013-14 academic year, culminating an effort by Muslim students and other supporters —  almost 25 faculty members — that has lasted nearly a decade.

The Markaz: Resource Center for Engagement with the Cultures and Peoples of the Muslim World will occupy a two-room complex on the second floor of Old Union’s Nitery Building.

According to the project’s student leaders, the effort to establish the center reached a tipping point at the end of winter quarter when the students were able to discuss the issue with Provost John Etchemendy Ph.D. ‘82.

“I think it was just an accumulation of all of the conversations we had with the administrators,” said Mahta Baghoolizadeh ’13, former president of the Muslim Student Awareness Network. “When we spoke with Provost Etchemendy, his response was, ‘It’s time for this to happen.’”

Associate Vice Provost of Student Affairs Sally Dickson, who will oversee the center’s creation and operation, agreed that the center fulfills a student need.

“There was a general recognition that there was a need with the growing Muslim student population,” Dickson said.

“Stanford talks a lot about diversity and promoting diversity, and we saw that it could be done better,” said Subhan Ali M.S. ‘09 Ph.D. ‘14, another leader who contributed to the effort to establish the center. “I think this is why they also agreed to have the center because it allows the University to embrace the diverse cultures of the Muslim world, which hasn’t been fully done yet.”

The center’s name — Markaz — means ‘center’ in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Turkish and Hebrew. The center will serve as a place for the discussion of Islam, the Middle East, North Africa and South and Southeast Asia, and will also serve as a safe space for Muslim students to talk with each other as well as with non-Muslim students.

“Right now the University has a very dedicated set of resources on the academic front towards engagement with Muslim civilization: with faculty, the Abbasi [Program in Islamic Studies] — these things exist,” Ali said. “[The center] is going to provide a whole new avenue for students, faculty, staff, to engage with these topics outside of the traditional academic realm.”

The University has started a search for a director who is a scholar in Islam and the Muslim world. Preliminary talks with the Office of Development have discussed funding and donor engagement to support the center’s director and the cost of programming, with involved students hoping to model their approach off that of the Diversity and First Generation Office.

Unlike Hillel at Stanford, which is a 501(c)(3) organization legally independent from Stanford, the students wanted Markaz to be part of the University and associated with the Office of Student Affairs.

“We had the option of being a 501(c)(3), but we wanted this to be under Student Affairs,” Baghoolizadeh said. “We wanted to establish a relationship between the student body and the administration that hasn’t been there before for students of Middle Eastern background, Muslim students, North African students, South Asian [students] and Southeast Asian [students].”

“I will be working very closely with the students who have been very engaged and excited about this and we’ll all be working together,” Dickson added.

According to Ali, similar initiatives at other universities have given Stanford students cause for optimism.

“Duke University set up something similar to this, and the people I’ve talked to there, once they had this, said that it completely shifted the culture of the conversation on campus around what people thought and felt about Islam and the Muslim people,” said Ali. “We really hope to see a similar effect.”