After years of petitioning from Muslim students, the Office of the University Chaplain has finally hired a coordinator of Muslim life, a position that was created in April. In the past, the office had rejected requests for a permanent Muslim-specific adviser.
Amina Darwish will start in the position on Jan. 3. Before accepting her role at Columbia, Darwish previously served as the Muslim chaplain of the University of Cincinnati starting in 2014, a board member of the Islamic Association of Cincinnati, and the adviser of the Muslim Students Association at Cincinnati. She is also the president of Mercy in Action, a nonprofit aimed at ending the world water crisis.
While the University has advisers for Christian and Jewish students, along with students of other faiths, no such coordinator existed for Muslim students in the years leading up to the creation of the new position in April. Calls from Columbia’s Muslim Students Association for a permanent religious adviser had been largely rejected in recent years due to funding issues.
The push for a Muslim-specific adviser at Columbia has been a perennial issue dating back to increased Islamophobia following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, and was granted renewed urgency following the revelation of NYPD surveillance of MSA in 2011. Other than a longstanding Muslim Religious Life Adviser who retired from the Chaplain’s office in 2009—and a temporary adviser hired for two years after news of the NYPD surveillance—Muslim students have gone without a dedicated adviser in the office (the office has employed Muslim staff that have worked with groups of different faiths, including MSA).
Without a permanent religious adviser, MSA had to take on added responsibilities as the only student group for Muslims at Columbia, which included planning all religious services and serving as the central, dedicated advocate for Muslim students on campus.
Following an anonymous donation in April meant to establish a permanent Muslim Life Coordinator, several members from the Office of the University Chaplain, MSA, and the Office of University Life formed a search committee for the position, and Darwish was hired after several rounds of interviews and presentations. Chaplain Jewelnel Davis announced the hire earlier this month in an email to the deans of students across the University.
“This is a historic moment. [Darwish is] going to be the first Muslim Life Coordinator on campus. I’m sure there will be a few more to come, but whatever she does sets a precedent for how the MSA and coordinator will work together,” Maryam Rostoum, BC ’18 and president of Columbia MSA said in an interview with Spectator. “What I feel like what she expressed that was a little different from the other candidates was her passion for her work. You could tell that she was just ready to put her 100 percent into the job.”
Darwish will provide religious advising to Muslim students and will work to connect MSA to resources from other offices, including Undergraduate Student Life and the Office of University Life. MSA also hopes to work with Darwish on securing a permanent space for events and meetings, a top priority for the group.
“I feel like a lot of people put weight on the MSA, especially from Columbia ... to find the perfect words to express how we are feeling,” Rostoum said. “But I’m not in a place to do that, so that’s where we hope she’ll help as a spokesperson.”
The MSA expects to maintain a close relationship with Darwish during her first few months on campus observing the community, reaching out to student groups, and providing spiritual guidance to Muslim students.
“This has been a very long time coming. I was posting on Facebook and tagging all the previous MSA presidents who worked so hard to get this in place,” Rostoum said. “A lot of us can’t even believe it’s happening. … This is a very exciting time.”