Maryam Rostoum went to high school in what she calls a “Muslim bubble” in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
“I went to a religious private school, so coming to college was a complete shock,” Rostoum said.
Since coming to Barnard, Rostoum has been an advocate for Muslim students on campus, having served as president of the Muslim Students Association and acting as a driving force in the hiring of a Muslim Life coordinator at Columbia. Rostoum also previously acted as a revenue manager for Spectator.
“Ever since 9/11, the [Muslim Students’ Association] has been advocating for a full-time Muslim chaplain,” Rostoum said. “The reality is we have a very large population of Muslim students on campus, but we didn’t have anyone to go to ask for help or any other resources. … being on a secular campus, it was difficult for us to ask for someone who we can ask for help, but due to the political circumstances on campus and in the world, having a solid Muslim community was so important to us.”
Before Muslim Life Coordinator Amina Darwish was hired by the Office of the University Chaplain, it fell on the shoulders of undergraduate students to coordinate all Muslim community events, including finding speakers for mandatory prayers. It wasn’t until President Donald Trump’s travel ban and Harvard’s announcement that it was hiring a full-time chaplain that Columbia finally hired Darwish, according to Rostoum.
Rostoum said Darwish has brought the Muslim community on campus closer together by being the leader of the weekly halaqa, a resource, a friendly face, and a liaison between undergraduate and graduate students.
“The only prayer space we have on campus is in Earl Hall; it’s basically a closet space but before it wasn’t even used,” she said. “Everyone just prayed in their rooms or in the stairwells. But now, the fact that her office is right across from that space, it’s become a center for us.”
Additional advocacy efforts Rostoum helped spearhead included coordinating with New York University’s Islamic Center to allow Columbia students to participate in Umrah, a trip to Mecca and Medina, as well as co-founding the Interfaith Collective with Hillel President Talia Rubin.
Despite these advances, Rostoum thinks there is still more that needs to be done.
“Muslims on this campus are a long way from getting all the resources that we need,” she said. “I want to help solidify a 24/7 prayer space. Right now, the prayer space isn’t even open on weekends, so you’ll see us students praying in the stacks at Butler or in different side-rooms. People are very embarrassed about having to pray or don’t pray because they think people are looking at them weird. We don’t have a safe space.”
Rostoum plans on staying connected with Barnard and working alongside Muslim student life coordinators and the MSA to continue advocating for these changes.
Ultimately, while moving to Barnard was a big shock to Rostoum, she credits coming to college for connecting her more to Islam.
“We have a very large population of muslim students on campus,” Rostoum said. “And, being on a secular campus is difficult for us so having a sold muslim community is so important.”