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Changing Perspectives

Ana Antunes and friends

Research amplifies the voices of young Muslim women

by Anita Boeira (MPC ’10)

Ana Antunes (MACL ’13) was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and moved to the US over a decade ago to pursue a master’s degree in film at the University of Utah. Upon graduation, she worked as a film editor but found it unfulfilling. So she volunteered to work on a documentary for the Utah Refugee All Stars, a soccer team of young refugee men, through the Utah Refugee Service office. “I started volunteering for the Refugee Center. That’s when I decided what to do with my life,” Ana says.

Ana enrolled in Westminster’s Master of Community Leadership program. After graduating with her second master’s degree, she was accepted to the PhD program in education, culture, and society at the University of Utah, which she will complete in the spring of 2018. Her dissertation, which focuses on the perceptions of Muslims in society, engages Ana in researching alongside a group of extraordinary young women to gather information relevant to the topic. This approach is not standard for a PhD dissertation.

“It’s a different approach to research,” Ana explains. “It’s not what I think is important; it’s about what all of us think is important.”

As part of her dissertation work, Ana partnered with current Utah residents Tabarek Hameed, Shams Ali, Iqra Abdi, Kadi Sow, and Amina Bajrovic—all high-school age and from Iraq, Kenya, Cote D’Ivoire, and Utah. Their project uses a participatory research methodology in which Ana works side-by-side with the girls to determine the direction of the project.

Originally, their project focused solely on the perception of the young women’s classmates at their respective high schools. But after the November 2016 election, they felt they needed to explore those themes within a broader audience.*

“We’ve been focusing a lot on public engagement. We went on the radio to talk about Islamophobia and discrimination,” Ana says. “We’ve been working with Spy Hop on a monthly show, so people who don’t know about Muslims can learn straight from a Muslim’s mouth instead of from the media.”

When asked about the impact of their work on their own lives, Tabarek explains that working with Ana has changed her life. “Miss Ana was there to comfort us. She gave us an opportunity to have a voice. Before, I was scared to have an opinion because of what people might think of me. Ana gave me the opportunity to fight for the right thing.”

Kadi says that she originally wanted to go into the medical field, but now she wants to be a journalist so she can share her perspective, and that of the Muslim community, with the world.

Amina summed it up best. “This is our goal: to change people’s perspectives.”

Ana reflects on how much she has learned from working with the girls. “I am proud to be able to witness them as they grow up to become the amazing young women they are becoming.”

*“Al Ahad, the Hijab Project,” which is part of their research, will be displayed at UMOCA July 21–November 21, 2017. 



About the Westminster Review

The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.