Connecting through similarities and embracing differences with MSA 

Sara Khan (left) and Yara Habo (right) stand outside at the Student Organization Fair to promote the Muslim Student Association. Photo courtesy of Muslim Student Association

By McCartney Walsh 

The Muslim Student Association at Youngstown State University strives to connect and provide support for Muslim students while educating non-Muslim students on Islam.

The MSA is a relatively new organization, brought to campus at the end of 2020 with the goal of creating a welcoming environment for Muslim students on campus, according to MSA’s creator and president, sophomore biology pre-med major Layali Kusuni.

“We wanted to have a group here on campus that allows Muslims to meet and connect with each other,” Kusuni said. “Being a Muslim college student comes with many experiences, so having this organization creates an open environment allowing you to connect with people that are sharing the same similarities as you.”

MSA’s advisor is fashion and interior merchandise treasurer and YSU professor Taci Turel. She said Muslim students are a very diverse group of people, many often coming from different backgrounds, countries and different cultural experiences.

“MSA is an organization that helps these students navigate in Youngstown as a minority group who share the same faith,” Turel said. “They also learn from each other’s perspectives and cultures.”

Being able to provide Muslim students with the opportunity to connect with other students they can relate to enhances their college experience, making them feel more supported and represented, Turel said.

“The organization helps students create a support network and tackle issues they may experience due to rising levels of misunderstanding and lack of knowledge regarding Muslims in the U.S.,” Turel said. 

Another goal of the association is to educate, involve and welcome non-Muslim students to the MSA. 

“We highly encourage and appreciate non-Muslims being involved in MSA and attending events, religious and nonreligious,” Kusuni said. “This allows non-Muslims to learn more about Islam, as well as spread awareness.” 

Sophomore biology BaccMed major Julianna Sandine isn’t a member of the Muslim community but joined the group in order to support her friends and fellow students and learn new things about the religion.

“I soon learned all about the culture and religion,” Sandine said. “I found this to be super insightful, especially coming from someone who knew little-to-nothing about the religion.”

By breaking the barriers between different religions, students on campus are able to teach and learn more about each other, creating a more harmonious environment for all students at YSU, Kusuni said.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about Islam,” Kusuni said. “So connecting with others on campus creates a peaceful and safe environment here on campus for Muslims.”

According to Turel, with so many different, unique people in the world, it is important that people learn about, respect and embrace those who are different from them. She also emphasized how important it is to have diverse organizations on campus.

“It’s important for our students to understand other cultures, religions and international communities, because they will more than likely be working in very diverse environments when they graduate from YSU,” Turel said. 

Such insight and understanding offers both personal and professional benefits, according to Sandine.

“I want to become a doctor, knowing not all of my patients are going to be the same religion or sex as me, makes it so important to try to expose myself to all cultures,” she said. “It is important because it allows us to understand each other as humans better, it allows us to have empathy and become better humans ourselves.”

For more information on getting involved with or joining the MSA, find the group on Instagram at @ysu.msa or contact Kusuni at [email protected]