By SHANNON MOLTER
Are you active on social media?
If so, you have the power to create meaningful change in the world.
Social media can serve as much more than just a platform to socialize with friends. It can work as a tool to share stories of injustice and reach a worldwide audience.
Heba Mohammad, a recent University of Wisconsin – Green Bay graduate, utilized her personal Facebook account to share her story of discrimination.
On Oct. 21, Mohammad posted a Facebook photo album that showcased the email conversation she had with Chris Wery, alderman of District 8 in Green Bay.
Mohammad initiated the e-mail conversation with Wery by asking about the possibility of free bus fares for Green Bay residents on Election Day.
Mohammad wrote, “I hate to think that those who cannot afford an extra bus ticket will be unable to vote because of their income status. It’s even more frustrating when you add to the equation that all bus routes are free on Packers game days … What I am asking of you is to help fix this oversight.”
Mohammad closed the email by thanking the alderman for his time and told him he was free to contact her if he needed further information or would like to speak in person on the subject.
Alderman Wery responded to this email by saying she posed an interesting question that deserved further research.
He continued the email and wrote: “I am just curious, are you the founder of the Muslim Student Association at UWGB? Across the country there seem to be some problems here and there with some MSAs. I just want to be assured that your group in no way promotes or defends militant Islamic ideology or Sharia law. Do you and the MSA condemn both of those as well as terrorist groups such as Hamas?”
Heba responded to the alderman’s email by saying she was the founder of the MSA at UW-Green Bay and that she wasn’t sure what that had to do with the free transportation on Election Day.
Heba told Alderman Wery she was offended that their conversation had taken that direction, and that she would not reply to his question for two reasons: “1. As a graduated student, I am no longer a part of MSA and should not speak on their behalf, and 2. I don’t have to. The second reason should not be interpreted as an answer to your question one way or the other.”
Alderman Wery replied, “I do indeed take your non-answer as my answer. As the founder of the organization you are indeed THE person to ask. I will look into the bus issue.”
The morning after the email conversation, Mohammad decided to share the conversation on Facebook.
“It was not easy deciding whether or not to share it, but I knew I’d feel more guilty not sharing it than I would if I did,” Mohammad said. “So the morning after receiving the email, I took screenshots of the entire conversation and shared it in a Facebook album, which I made public so people could share it.”
By mid-afternoon of that day, Mohammad’s Facebook album had reached 200 shares, and an Imgur link (an image sharing hosting service) of the screenshots was getting thousands of views. Shortly after, Mohammad began receiving calls from different media sources.
“I was contacted by about 15 different news sources. Most were local news channels, but some were website bloggers, others wrote for magazines and newspapers, and I even ended up with a radio interview,” Mohammad said.
National media outlets such as the Huffington Post and USA Today picked up the story as well and used pre-existing interviews.
“After it received national attention, I was happy that from the start this situation was set up to be a ‘teachable moment,’ so to speak,” Mohammad said. “Had it just been filled with hatred and people feeling offended without trying to educate, I don’t think all the attention would have achieved anything.”
The afternoon of the same day, Mohammad received a call from Alderman Wery apologizing.
“He apologized for the way he asked the questions and in the forum that he asked them … he acknowledged that he should have separated the two issues [concern for election day transportation and the MSA], but he never apologized for actually asking the questions,” Mohammad said. “I did forgive his lack of judgment after that phone call, but I certainly felt he was apologizing only because of the negative press … In later interviews he defended himself and said they were legitimate questions.”
Despite his apology and Mohammad forgiving him, many Green Bay citizens, as well as people around the country, were not pleased with Wery.
“I was made aware by Wery himself that he was getting some nasty comments directed at him, but at that point there was little I could do to stop what others were saying to him,” Mohammad said.
In efforts to educate people about Islam, and to prevent similar situations in the future, UW-Green Bay’s MSA hosted an event open to the public on Oct. 30 titled, “Islam awareness: A conversation about Islam.”
“The UW-Green Bay MSA had done several similar programs in the past, but because of what happened with Mr. Wery, this one drew a lot of attention,” Mohammad said. “Several members of the UW-Green Bay community pitched in to make the program a success and to use it as an opportunity to talk about diversity at UW-Green Bay … the idea was to give people a platform where they could ask questions comfortably and get information easily.”
Now that the story is no longer viral, Mohammad can reflect on the meaningfulness of sharing her story.
“I hoped that by sharing this story, it would give someone else the courage to share theirs,” Mohammad said. “So many times people are faced with this type of prejudice but don’t know what to do about it, especially if it is someone in a position of authority.”
All it took was a post to Facebook and an image on Imgur to have Mohammad’s story heard around the world.
“Without social media, I don’t think the story would have gotten outside of my friends,” Mohammad said.