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Nahyan Fancy: A MUSLIM STUDENT

Claire Heininger | Thursday, February 19, 2004

Nahyan Fancy knows quite a bit about elitism – in religion, in academics and even in football – and always seems to end up on the receiving end of the arrogance. When the inevitable backlash from the Sept. 11 strikes hit the Notre Dame campus, Fancy, a Muslim, felt the predominantly Catholic student body around him formulate an idea of terrorism that was entirely too convenient.”It was difficult because there were a lot of people spouting out lines [about Muslims] that were clearly taken from Fox or CNN,” he said. “There wasn’t a general unwelcomeness when you talked to individuals … but there is always the odd person who will never change their views based on what the media told them and is pretty much a war-mongerer before they have even gone to war.”Unfortunately for Fancy and his Muslim peers, these inflammatory stances were the most sensational, causing sparks that placed them consistently in the public eye. “You would pick up the paper and read the classic article bashing Muslims completely out of ignorance,” Fancy said. “And you just had to dismiss it as an undergrad who believes everything that the government or the media tells them.”It was easier to dismiss explicit discrimination in print, Fancy continued, because outright verbal attacks were few and far between. “As for the people who did hold hateful views, our paths didn’t cross,” he said. But despite a lack of individual confrontations or comments directed specifically at him, Fancy couldn’t help but sense the tension in the environment. “References,” he admits regretfully, “did pop up.”These references, which ranged from the subtly accusatory to the blatantly offensive, clashed with Fancy’s expectations for a sincere intellectual dialogue – leaving him longing for the kind of respectful debate he engaged in during his own undergraduate experience.Before he became a graduate student at Notre Dame, Fancy attended Knox College in Illinois, a school he described as “a second- or third-tier liberal arts college that rankings-wise, doesn’t fit in.” He said his classmates at Knox were every bit as intellectually gifted as the undergraduates he now interacts with as a teaching assistant at Notre Dame – and much more modestly grounded in reality.”The students here think too much of themselves,” Fancy said. “There’s this general impression of elitism that they feel.”This arrogance breeds a sense of entitlement so pervasive, Fancy said, that it borders on the irrational – like justifying football failure with academic success. When the Irish lost 38-0 to Michigan earlier this year, Notre Dame students chose to reassure themselves by asserting their supposed intellectual dominance over Michigan students – a reaction that Fancy found repulsive.”They said that the game didn’t matter because they will be getting the higher jobs that these [state school students] won’t be,” he said. “It was another case of oversimplifying and taking the Notre Dame administration or the U.S. News and World Report at their word.”Fancy was less personally upset with the students’ condescension than he was disappointed with their ignorance. “They haven’t interacted with enough Michigan students to know [if] they really are better than Big Ten colleges,” he said. “But they still have this idea that Notre Dame is a better academic institution – so that makes them far superior to people at other schools.”From their conceited approach to grades and the gridiron to their divisive comments about religion, Notre Dame undergraduates have a lot to learn about complexity, Fancy said.”The Notre Dame student body just isn’t as critical in their thinking, which perhaps leads them to accept a lot more of what the media is telling them [about other religions],” he said.Instead of engaging in deep exploration of the cultural and religious similarities that link them together, Fancy said, they all too often take the easy way out. He regrets that the same students who can thoroughly learn chemistry or insightfully write a paper have been trained to swallow information instead of to synthesize it. “So [many] of the undergraduate[s] are sheltered and less aware of things,” Fancy said. “I wish they would engage a little more.”He said Notre Dame will only engage in the diverse dialogue that his liberal-arts background makes him crave when Catholics and Muslims, graduate students and undergrads alike drop their self-satisfaction, shed their sense of entitlement and engage in discussions such as those put on by the Notre Dame United Muslim ssociation, of which Fancy is a leading member.While he thinks a “pluralistic and tolerant society” is still a possibility, Fancy knows from experience that convincing the complacent will be a challenge. “It always really difficult to help people who’ve made up their minds,” he said.