Megan Noor ’21 looks to reshape perceptions of Muslims through research

Megan Noor ’21, a political science and policy studies major and Middle East studies minor, is addressing local perceptions of Muslims through an Honors Fellows research project.

An Elon senior is using her undergraduate research to combat Islamophobia in the local community and around the world.

Megan Noor ’21, a political science and policy studies major and Middle East studies minor, has spent more than two years conducting research on the portrayal of Muslims. It’s a topic that is especially personal to Noor, who is Muslim and has witnessed countless incidents of Islamophobia and violence toward Muslims throughout her life.

Megan Noor ’21

“Any Muslim you talk to has a story,” Noor said. “If it’s not specifically a hate crime, it’s a hateful phone call, or a hateful slur shouted from a moving vehicle. Just about everyone has one of these stories, and it affects Muslims’ mental health.”

Noor knew she would be required to complete a two-year research project alongside a faculty mentor as part of Elon’s Honors Fellow program. After coming across research that proved negative messaging about Muslims played a significant role in negative attitudes toward the group, she wanted to find out whether positive messaging could have the opposite effect. Noor selected Kaye Usry, assistant professor of political science and policy studies, as her mentor to help guide her through an in-depth analysis of Islamophobia.

Noor set out to confront the issue by first studying the portrayal of Muslims by news outlets, politicians and Muslim activists and was able to pinpoint messaging trends from a variety of sources. For instance, Noor found that Muslim activist Dalia Mogahed often emphasized that Muslims are friends, neighbors and members of the broader community. Former U.S. President Barrack Obama commonly described Muslims Americans as patriotic citizens who love the United States.

“There is some degree of political intuition at play here where the sources who are using positive messages about Muslims are to an extent aware of what messages are going to be effective,” Noor said.

Using the findings from her analysis, Noor created an experimental survey, polling Elon students about their feelings toward Muslims. Noor presented participants with excerpts of positive messaging about Muslims and had each person complete a questionnaire that measured their feelings toward the religious group. Noor found that students strongly disagreed with various Islamophobic statements after reading the excerpts. Noor also considered the types of messages that resonated with different identity groups and found that the “Muslims as patriots” framing had a notably positive impact among students who identified as political conservative.

After completing the campus survey, Noor expanded her research to include members of the broader Alamance County community. Instead of written excerpts, county residents were presented with videos that focused on positive messaging about Muslims. That study showed that Alamance County residents generally rejected Islamophobic beliefs and responded most positively to the “Muslims as neighbors” framing.

Noor recently completed a successful defense of her Honors thesis and hopes that this research will help citizens, politicians and news outlets avoid feeding into the negative narratives that give life to Islamophobia.

“I think a big part of it is being intentional about what messages we use when we talk about Muslims,” Noor said. “It’s not just news outlets or activists, it’s everyone. These messages are present in all of our conversations whenever we mention Muslims.”

Following graduation, Noor will attend the University of California, Berkeley School of Law where she hopes to study to become an immigration defense attorney. Noor wants to defend people apprehended by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Border Patrol. She is grateful for the opportunities she’s had through the Honors Fellows program and especially in her work with Usry.

“I really grew a lot as a scholar because of the support of the Honors Fellows program and the support of my mentor Kaye Usry,” Noor said. “She was incredibly helpful to me and so willing to fight for my project and to get me the resources that I needed to do it.”