“Build the Wall”
These were the words chalked onto the middle of the Diag last Thursday, March 31. Muslim students then spent hours cleaning the mess because of the lack of response from the University of Michigan’s Division of Public Safety and Security and the University’s administration.
I am sorry to say I am not surprised.
The fact that DPSS and the University failed to take immediate action to clean the words from the Diag, forcing Muslim students to clean up the words of hatred directed at them, is despicable. But it’s a good example of how things always go for Muslims and minority students on this campus. Though President Schlissel and spokesman Rick Fitzgerald released statements, the University does not put forth real effort to mend its relationships with different minority groups on campus, and it is the members of the groups themselves that have to create their own safe spaces. Islamophobia has been prevalent on campus throughout the years and statements without regular action is not enough.
This is not an isolated situation in terms of how the University treats Islamophobia or even how Islamophobia is treated in general. Last year when UMix — a University program that provides students with a space to enjoy alcohol-free Friday nights — planned a screening of “American Sniper,” several minority student groups and individuals petitioned to not have the movie screened. The UMix organizers accepted this change at first, but after pressure from the media and others who called the incident an infringement of freedom of speech, they decided to play the movie anyway. During that week, Muslim students were blamed for the incident from all sides, and instead of the University administration standing up for Muslim students, Fitzgerald stood by the decision to keep the movie running in UMix.
Muslim and Middle Eastern and North African students had to create their own safe spaces during this time and had no public support from the University. They were their own spokespersons, their own safety net, their own validation.
I bring this up because since that time, not much has changed. Fitzgerald’s statement on Thursday felt as if the University was enforcing the rhetoric of Muslims being against freedom yet again:
“Attacks directed toward any member or group within the University of Michigan community, based on a belief or characteristic, are inconsistent with our values of respect, civility and equality,” the statement read. “We all understand that where speech is free it will sometimes wound. But our message is this: We are fully committed to fostering an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of everyone. Tonight we are reminded there is much work yet to be done.”
I fail to see any substantial work on the part of the University to combat Islamophobia or listen to minority students on campus. The very nature of Fitzgerald’s statement implies that Muslim students are simply wounded by freedom of speech and to imply that hateful speech should be expected, is a remark that stems from the same ideas that Muslims face because of Islamophobia.
The students who washed the Diag kept the chalk with the words “Trump 2016” in respect of freedom of speech demonstrating how the students’ intentions were not to censor speech, but to work against hate speech. To say that there is work to be done without making substantial effort is hollow. Muslim and minority students are not treated as students deserving of the University’s concern.
Everything adds up. Jim Harbaugh was revered for a tweet about watching “American Sniper,” while Muslim students were seen as attackers of freedom of speech. A member of Central Student Government yelled in my face when the only indication of my identity was my headscarf. No one called it a bias incident. A University medical school professor posted an Islamophobic comment on one of my articles. I am expected to be used to this and to accept it because otherwise I am just another Muslim that cried hate speech being discarded as being anti-freedom of speech. Despite the fact that freedom of speech exists in America does not mean that hateful speech should be tolerated in such a way that the victim of hatred gets treated like the perpetrator. Hateful speech is never as painful as watching people react as if there is nothing wrong with it.
The path to progress is not through tolerating hateful speech, it is in recognizing it, just as it was in the past with anti-Semitic speech or blackface or any other forms of hate written by few but accepted by the masses.
Every day, I get closer and closer to believing I will never truly be seen as belonging to this University, or in America for that matter — my University of Michigan acceptance e-mail and the fact that I was born and raised in the state of Michigan still does not feel like enough.
I should not expect hateful speech.
I should not accept hateful speech.
I should not be expected to accept hateful speech.
No one should.
Rabab Jafri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.