Masuma Khan is making history
The Dalhousie student and outspoken political activist wants to better her hometown of Halifax. Just try and stop her.
the last year, Masuma Khan has led thousands of students into the streets to protest high tuition fees, spoke at the local Women’s March on Washington and organized a public vigil after the deadly Quebec City mosque shooting. The 22-year-old is also vice-president academic and external for the Dalhousie Student Union, works with the school’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Resource Group, organizes public lectures to combat Islamophobia and is the outgoingpresident of Dal’s Muslim Student Association. In between all those roles, she’s also an international development studies student entering her fourth year of study.
So understandably, she’s tired. But Khan’s fatigue isn’t from her schedule. She’s tired of dealing with “all the BS” in the world—the bullshit that comes with being an Afghan woman, a Muslim woman, a disabled woman (two spinal surgeries over her university career). It’s what drives her fight for progress, Khan says. She couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t.
Here the student leader talks about her heritage, racism in Halifax and the DSU’s controversial year. She had a lot to say. This interview has been edited for style, clarity and length.
My mom was a bit of a feminist activist as well. Growing up, seeing a Muslim woman giving speeches in Victoria Park, my mom really instilled that kind of activism in me. Hers was more about women’s rights and anti-war activism, and mine is just kind of everywhere. I don’t think we can affect change by just helping Indigenous groups; just helping Black folks; just helping queer folks. We need to have a multi-tier effect. When you see how white supremacy is tied to anti-Blackness, Islamophobia—it’s a BOGO. You buy one, you get the other for free. that human beings actually have in organizing. Once you meet, at a rally or whatever, there’s an exchange ideas and we grow as a community. I know some people don’t think that’s life-changing, but for me that is. When I hear what a queer person goes through, for me that’s life-changing. Now I have a better understanding. If I’m misgendering someone, knowing that I can be a less oppressive person—even though the system won’t change, even if nothing changes, we will change. We will better ourselves and eventually it will become better. I feel activists are kind of born out of university and the oppressive practices that different universities have. But I do feel there is an uproar because of what’s happening in places like Charlottesville. The thing that’s scary is there are two sides. I guess that’s why I do a lot of education stuff in the Dalhousie community. A lot of people don’t realize that racism happens on our campus. Not yet. The reality is students who are part of the alt-right are organizing all across Canada. I’m kind of waiting because I think it’s going to be a matter of time before it happens here. The thought’s there. Some students are very anti-Indigenous, anti-Black, anti-Muslim, anti-everything. I was at the Pride [Annual General Meeting]. Even myself as a non-queer or trans person, being in that space just as a minority was so oppressive—the looks, the stares. People always have a hard time describing what racism is, and in that room it was like the air was racist. The decision was made after that [by the previous DSU council], and we’re going to revisit the boycott. It’s going to come back up again this year. If [Halifax Pride] does better, if they actually do some community consultation, it’ll come back. It wasn’t a forever thing, it was just an act of solidarity.