COMMENTARY: Jewish students at Rutgers are banding together for justice
On Oct. 23, Rutgers microbiology Professor Michael Chikindas’s Facebook page was revealed to be full of discriminatory posts. He shared various anti-Semitic, homophobic and sexist images, including posts referring to women, such as Israeli members of Parliament Ayelet Shaked and Miri Regev, First Lady Melania Trump and her stepdaughter Ivanka Trump as “b**ches” or “sl*ts.” As Jewish students of Rutgers—New Brunswick, we are deeply concerned regarding Chikindas’s public attacks against Jews, the LGBT community, women and the Israeli people.
Chikindas claimed that he was hacked in a message that he sent to NJ Advance Media. He said, “I cannot say with confidence that everything on my page was shared by me,” but does not outright say that he did not share any of these disturbing posts. In fact, he even repeated his assertion that Zionism (the movement that established the state of Israel) is racist.
This incident with Chikindas is reminiscent of a similar occurrence with a professor at Oberlin College. Professor Joy Karega was fired after an investigation into her private social media accounts found that she posted similar anti-Semitic statements as Chikindas, including assertions that Israel was behind the Charlie Hebdo murders in France.
As reported in The Algemeiner, Chikindas shared multiple Facebook posts that promote the ugliest depiction of anti-Semitism and homophobia. These posts are causing great pain and concern to many of the communities here on Rutgers campus, including the Jewish and LGBT student bodies.
Rutgers University issued a statement condemning Chikindas’s posts, which we applaud. But while we are grateful for this first step, this statement must be followed by concrete action from the University and also from the entire student body. While we firmly support the University’s commitment to free speech and expression for all students and faculty, such hateful and discriminatory images and words compromise a faculty member’s ability to serve their role. Rutgers University abides by a very strict library of regulations and policies crafted and approved by the University’s Board of Governors, the Board of Trustees, executive officers and the president of the University. Section 60.1.12 of this library is a “Policy Prohibiting Discrimination and Harassment,” which states that “The University strictly prohibits discrimination and harassment based on membership in certain enumerated protected classes ... Harassment directed toward an individual or group, or experienced by an individual or group, based on membership in a protected class, also violates University policy.” As explained in this section of University policy, some protected classes are religion, sex and sexual orientation. Chikindas’s posts outwardly attacked members of these classes. Like the Oberlin Board of Trustees who voted to dismiss Karega for “failing to meet the academic standards that Oberlin requires of its faculty and failing to demonstrate intellectual honesty,” as students of Rutgers, we are confident that the University will take action against such a clear violation of their policies.
Rutgers has a very diverse student body and maintains a healthy environment for all. We hope that the University will continue to protect all of its students from discrimination. Therefore, we call on Rutgers University to take swift and necessary action to suspend Chikindas, pending further investigation. We created this petition to demonstrate to the University that we will not tolerate bigotry of any kind on our campus, and so far, we have gotten overwhelming support with the number of signatures currently more than 3,700 as of Oct. 30. We cannot expect any type of change to occur on our campus if we do not fight for it. As students, we know the type of influence that members of the Rutgers faculty have on our education and our lives. If nothing is done when they promote racism and prejudice, then hatred and division will grow to the detriment of our students, our beloved University and our whole society.
We hope that Rutgers takes the necessary actions to protect our campus from racism. This issue is not one to be taken lightly. As students, we must unite to stand against bigotry.
Speaking as Jewish students of the University, we have always been thankful for a campus environment that allows our community to thrive in so many different ways. The fact that Rutgers has the largest population of Jewish undergraduates in America is a testament to Rutgers’ success in creating a space for a diverse group of students to learn together. Home to two of the largest Hillel and Chabad buildings in the country, Rutgers is one of the best universities for religious and cultural Jewish life on campus. Although Chikindas’s remarks have troubled many, the Jewish community as a whole has continued to practice this week, including having prayer services, kosher dining and Sabbath festivities.
Miriam Waghalter is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student.
Austin Altman is a Rutgers Business School sophomore.
David Ezrapour is a School of Engineering sophomore.
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