Kayla Jackson

I still feel somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of examining and interpreting someone else’s life, but now, it is easier for me to see the profound importance in broadcasting people’s stories. My project has focused on Somali youth’s voices, and I have been humbled and moved by the power in these people’s beautiful stories. Throughout the term, I often tried to fit in with the high school culture in order to establish connections, talking about popular movies and gross cafeteria food, and while this was helpful for me to gain trust, I realized towards the end of the term that many of these students speak more articulately and think more critically than I do, and that I could connect with them not only by discussing the latest movies, but by listening to them critically examine these movies. 

I have been interested in Islam around the world since I studied abroad in Mali for three months in the winter of 2012. The following summer, I interned at the Arab-American Association of New York in Brooklyn, NY, where I worked with Arab American youth ages 4 to 18 organizing a summer camp. I gained insight into experiences of Islam in America during this internship, from hearing experiences of fasting during Ramadan (most of the counselors I was supervising were fasting during camp), to opening my eyes to police surveillance, to learning a few important Arabic words like “Alhamdulillah.” I found that my background in Arabic sayings and Islamic practices helped me understand some of the culture and experiences of the students at Faribault High School and at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, but more importantly, it reminded me that there is so much left for me to learn about people.

During this fieldwork, I gained significant experience with talking to strangers and asking questions. Listening to my own voice in the interviews, I can feel the difference in confidence from the earlier interviews to the interviews at the end of the course: I had less hesitation in my voice, and I began to use the word “like” less frequently.

My experience as a Religion major at Carleton College has greatly influenced my fieldwork this term. Religious Studies has taught me that I can never see the full story. I am interested in combatting Islamophobia because I think it is wrong for people to judge all Muslims on the actions of a few, so in my fieldwork, I tried to rise above prejudice as much as possible, relaying mostly personal experiences in order to veer away from generalizing about a group of people.

Religious Studies courses have additionally reinforced in me the practice of being humble. I have tried to see divinity in the subjects of my fieldwork, helping me listen and privilege the voices of the students, at times literally giving the students my camera to show me what they think is important. My work this term has reminded me of the importance of listening to people’s stories and asking open-ended questions because, as one of the young women at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center told me, “We are a walking story.”

—Kayla Jackson

June 9, 2014