Antisemitism and Islamophobia not rare phenomena amongst students
Students are generally perceived to be liberal, open-minded and tolerant people. But is that really so? Within the scope of a joint project carried out by the University of Osnabrück, Germany, and the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, both public and personal opinions concerning social prejudice were examined among students. The study results, which were partially published on MiGAZIN, depict the following picture: Students, like many people in the general population, hold prejudiced attitudes – in both Germany and in Canada.
According to a scientific definition, social prejudices are "pretentiously biological and cultural, religious traits, which serve as the underlying basis upon which people are classified and estimated..." Prof. Wassilis Kassis, an Osnabrück education researcher and his Canadian coleague, Dr. Charlotte Schallié, sought to clarify the extent to which social prejudices exist among German and Canadian students, in terms of xenophobia, gender stereotypes, antisemitism and anti-Islamic stances. An international comparative study about social prejudices held by students has not been carried out until now.
Approximately 1,000 students where surveyed in Osnabrück and approx. 800 in Victoria University. The main study component was the "Group-focused Enmity Syndrome" developed by the Bielefeld research group, Wilhelm Heitmeyer and Andreas Zick, which encompass various definitions, such as antisemitic and anti-islamic positions, acceptance of violence against minorities and xenophobia.
The research results lay the foundations of a key finding: Strong social prejudices can be found both among German students and Canadian students. "It turns out that students, in anonymous surveys, hold prejudiced and intolerant attitudes towards Jews and Muslims. No significant difference could be detected in this aspect between the student population and the general population, which by itself is not a calming element at all." says Kassis. "But the really surprising fact is the non-existence of significant differences between German and Canadian students, despite the fact that the social connections of both countries are completely different."
Other concrete results show that approx. 50% of the students that participated in either a "classic" or a "secondary" survey, express more implicit opinions and that approximately 80 percent of the students in both universities hold prejudiced stances against Muslims. At this point, the education researcher elucidates the limits of the study: "The conclusion we can draw therefrom is that prejudiced attitudes and opinions do exist. But there is no explanation for their origin."
In view of such results, hence the question - to what extent international students who do not belong to the cultural mainstream are able to succeed. Kassis: "The University should ask itself to what extent it is willing to, and capable of, contributing to the advancement of an open-minded society. The basic understanding is that this issue should be deemed the university's top priority.