The journalism major has turned her undergraduate research into a passion project, and it won a prestigious Hearst Journalism Award.
Marjorie Anne Foster ’19 didn’t begin her undergraduate research at Elon to boost her resume or to seek out awards, though those would come. Her website “Meeting Muslims” earned a fifth-place finish in the Multimedia Innovative Storytelling Competition in this year’s Hearst Journalism Awards.
For Foster, research was about fulfilling a need: allowing Muslim students to share their own narrative, and appeal to those who’ve never met a Muslim individual before. It’s a pursuit that generated years of research, journalistic excellence and now a prestigious national award.
Foster’s research began when she received a call from Amy Allocco, associate professor of religious studies and program director of the Multifaith Scholars program. That call “radically changed Elon for me,” Foster said. She was accepted into Multifaith Scholars, one of the most prestigious research programs on campus. As part of the program, students are required to complete two years of rigorous undergraduate research. But Foster decided to take it a step further.
She wrote her research paper, “Negotiating Islamophobia: The Experiences of College-Age Muslims in North Carolina,” which has since been accepted for publication in the Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa, where it will appear later this year. She even landed a few bylines in the Burlington Times-News highlighting North Carolina Muslim communities and ultimately started a “Get On The Bus” program that transported students to the Burlington Masjid, or mosque, every Friday for prayer and encouraged inter-religious conversation. But the Hearst win is a product of Foster’s passion project: a multimedia website where Muslim students could share their stories in their own voices.
“If you do one Google search, you just see how much Muslim crimes are reported on – three times, four times, five times more than average crime committed by a white Christian,” Foster said. “And so, I kind of wanted this to be a platform for Muslims to reclaim their identity.”
Foster’s website incorporated videos of Muslim students talking about their interests and achievements, and Foster intentionally wanted to show Muslims as ordinary people – as individuals who care deeply about family and have many pursuits and passions.
Foster spent months visiting the Burlington Masjid, conducting more than 45 interviews, making grape leaves with Muslim students, inviting the masjid’s members to her home for s’mores and, most importantly, forming meaningful relationships with her subjects. For Foster, a quick interview without depth and good conversation was out of the question.
“What people don’t see about this website is it’s such a small amount of the actual work that I did and how much I care about each person who’s on that website,” Foster said. “Unlike a lot of journalism pieces where you do a cold interview, and then you never talk to them again, these people are in my life and they changed my Elon experience.”
For Foster, the extensive interviews and countless hours of writing never seemed like a chore. Her conversations intrigued her, her subjects became her friends, and her passion for telling other people’s stories became something she pursued more and more.
“The essential nature of Marjorie Anne is that she dives deeply into whatever she does. And, she’s, you know, intellectually curious all the time,” said Glenn Scott, associate professor of journalism. “It was a project she did for her Multifaith work. But honestly, I think she would have done all of it without it.”
Despite her selfless work ethic, Foster credits her success to her mentors – ”the most influential part” of her undergraduate experience, she said. She said she is grateful to Allocco and Scott, thanking them for their inspiration and guidance.
Multifaith Scholars and Hearst aside, these mentors pushed Foster to keep going, even when topics and conversations turned difficult. “Getting into some of these stories … was intense. And it was very heavy. And it was really hard on me, emotionally, spiritually, all of that,” she said.
Growing up in a Christian family, and involved in Christian ministries, Foster always knew the importance of religious tradition in her own life. And so, the beginning stages of reporting on Islam was, naturally, a bit out of her religious comfort zone.
“She comes from a very strong Christian family, and she is still a strong Christian, but she can open up to other religions at the same time,” Scott said. “And I think it’s that appreciation for what is sacred in all of us. What is sacred about Christianity allows her to sincerely be open to what is sacred about every religion, and how it animates people. When people have a sense of the sacred mysteries of life, it opens them up.”
But perhaps it was her strong faith that allowed Foster to appreciate the Muslim faith in the first place. And to accept everyone, no matter their faith.
“You know, you can still spend more time in a mosque than a church and be a good Christian,” Foster said. “I learned that I could be a bridge between different traditions and that it’s okay to identify as one thing, but still create a platform for other people to express their beliefs.”