Rabab Jafri: Where is hoMe?

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By Rabab Jafri, Columnist
Published April 14, 2015

On April 7, the University’s Center for Campus Involvement announced it would cancel the screening of “American Sniper,” following a letter started by LSA sophomore Lamees Mekkaoui, raising concerns about the movie being shown at UMix. The CCI planned to reschedule the movie to a different location, followed by a panel and discussion.

The letter of concern regarding the movie has been framed as an initiative from Middle Eastern and North African and Muslim students when more non-MENAS and non-Muslim students signed on than the former. Mekkaoui said, “This is the first time that I have personally seen a letter where it had students from Central Student Government, students from Students for Choice, Sikh Student Association, Muslim Student Association and Hillel all signed up to the same letter.”

Law student Rachel Jankowski created a petition calling for the movie to be played at UMix again, which stated, “If the University prevents a movie like this from being shown, it promotes intolerance and stifles dialogue and debate on the subject and goes directly against the atmosphere UMix purports to provide.”

UMix is a program that hosts events from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday nights for students who want somewhere to have alcohol-free fun. Considering that the movie was rescheduled to a different venue with a panel and a discussion provided, it opened the way for more intellectual dialogue on the movie than in the UMix environment.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald commented on the situation after the movie was rescheduled to be shown last Friday night at UMix. “I think ‘American Sniper’ didn’t quite fit this venue and this event,” Fitzgerald said. “But, having said that, we made the commitment, we made that decision, and in the final analysis we needed to honor that decision that was made to show, and so tonight we have two movies.”

I question whether the University’s decision to honor this decision should take precedence over concern for the safety of its own students.

When the University made the initial decision to remove the movie showing from UMix, Mekkaoui was interviewed by multiple media outlets on what happened. However after the University changed its decision to show the movie at UMix, they did not personally inform Mekkaoui of the change. “If we had just written the letter and they said no that would be one thing,” Mekkaoui said, “but they made the decision and then pulled out the rug from under us.”

Despite the countless bias incident reports — reports to the University from community members about hate crimes — from Muslim and MENA students, the University has done little to address the effects of its decisions on the Muslim and MENA community. The only response to these bias incident reports was the e-mail sent out for students to give and expect respect, which was originally only going to include a general statement that students should give and expect respect. It was only after MENA and Muslim students asked that they be mentioned was it stated explicitly. The University acted as if threats to students were not grounds for issuing a statement. They acted as if it was not enough that DPSS made a student wait over an hour and a half for a response to verbal harassment. They acted as if it was not enough that there is clear evidence that Muslim and MENA students are facing hate speech and threats to their physical safety.

Despite these incidents, the University has not addressed the fact that students have been accused of being anti-free speech, when the movie showing was moved to a different venue with a panel and a discussion after being cancelled from UMix. This forced these students to defend themselves. Mekkaoui said, “They left it to one individual student to deal with the media bombarding her and harassing her, and allowed her to get her name slandered in the media because they just didn’t issue a clarifying statement.”

This University has fostered a climate that is unsafe for Muslim and MENA students. On Friday night, the room screening “Paddington” was mostly empty, and there was no protest from students at the “American Sniper” showing. Amidst the verbal harassment and threats of violence, Muslim and MENA students collectively decided that going to this movie showing would not be in the best interests of their safety. Allowing the students the opportunity to watch “Paddington” in a room where they could easily be found and targeted was clearly not in the best interests of these students. We have had to create methods to protect ourselves like creating safe spaces and a texting group for people that do not feel safe walking alone. Unlike for other students, the University is not protecting Muslim and MENA students.

As a Muslim student and columnist for The Michigan Daily, I have emphasized time and time again that I am writing from a perspective of an American Muslim in order to validate my claims. Today, I am writing both from the perspective of an American Muslim and as a Wolverine to validate that these communities are a part of my identity. I am just as much of an American as anyone who is a fan of the movie “American Sniper;” and I am just as much of a Wolverine as anyone else who is a part of this University. I have no other country to go to and no other University to call my own. I am tired of having to validate my feelings and my identity, like after the three American-Muslims — Deah, Yusor and Razan were killed. I related to their stories because they looked so much like me, and since this movie controversy, these feelings hit even closer to home.

I have to live with the repercussions of the University’s decision, as I do not have the luxury of parting myself from this identity that holds so many stereotypes. They get to brush off the decision that they made as a “mistake” and move on while I have to live with an unsafe campus climate. I have to live with the media backlash. All because I am a Muslim.

I am asking the University to do the right thing and protect its students instead of shying away from its responsibilities. I am asking students at this University to recognize that your fellow Wolverines are hurting.

I am a Wolverine, and this is my hoMe.

Rabab Jafri can be reached at rfjafri@umich.edu.