Reactions to protests reveal bigotry, lack of education
While President Robert L. Barchi continues to stand by his and the Board of Governors’ decision to invite Condoleezza Rice to speak at this year’s commencement ceremony, ironically enough, Rice herself announced that she will be declining the invitation in light of student, faculty and community protests. The fact that Rice is capable of recognizing and responding to students’ adamant dissatisfaction and Barchi is not says a lot about how little the administration values its own students. Protests were expressed in the form of op-eds and open letters published in The Daily Targum and sent directly to the administration, a faculty petition and ultimately, direct action including a sit-in at Old Queens and other public protests. These were all peaceful actions that posed no harm to anyone and escalated only because of Barchi’s failure to even acknowledge protesters’ concerns.
I would like to emphasize the fact that this student activism was carried out peacefully to the individual who wrote a letter to the editor in the Targum on May 2, titled “Protests should not tarnish commencement.” She “expressed grave concern” on the suspicion that the commencement ceremony may turn violent because of protesters. Apparently, vocalizing one’s opinion appears to be “menacing or terroristic” to the author of this letter — a statement which carries anti-Islamic and racial implications. These racist undertones are an unfortunate reminder that xenophobia is still very much alive not just in this country, but also within our own University.
A statement made by the Targum in its May 1 editorial, titled “#NoRice deserves attention from Rutgers” apparently also frightened this writer and caused her to appeal for a public apology: “Whatever happens at commencement, it will be on Barchi and the Board of Governors to deal with the ramifications of brushing aside the student voice.” What this should mean to any reader is that students may partake in some type of peaceful protest to express their dissatisfaction, and if it consequently does blemish Barchi’s reputation, then students should not be the ones to blame. There is no valid reason as to why someone would think that this statement implies violent action, unless they are clouded with biased judgment. It is not the responsibility of minority groups to constantly remind others to not view them in such a discriminatory light. Frankly, as a Muslim, Pakistani-American woman, I am exhausted of having to apologize for actions that I did not commit and take on the job of educating others to not be xenophobic and prejudiced. There is actually a petition on change.org that was started by one student opposed to protesters called “Award an Honorary Doctor of Laws to Condoleezza Rice.” According to the petition, “protests by a militant minority of Rutgers students subverted statute and upended all civility in a defamation campaign against an honorable public servant. The actions of these students have created a dangerous environment that could have caused a security risk to a former Secretary of State …” It is terrifying to me that students are being targeted with these racist comments, and that their entire mass movement is being labeled as radical and terroristic because of their religious and/or ethnic background.
But the writer of the letter does make a point when she states her graduation would be filled with fear: It should have been alarming that a woman who was responsible for the death of one million Iraqis, 5,000 U.S soldiers and who approved torture techniques such as water-boarding was being given an honorary degree and $35,000 by our University. It opens up the possibility for Rutgers to welcome other human right violators as commencement speakers and allows the administration to continue with its lack of transparency.
I, along with other protesters, refuse to apologize for speaking out against injustice and acts of oppression. Instead, we urge the entire community to come with open minds to a Teach-In at the Student Activities Center on the College Avenue campus tomorrow evening, May 6, that students and faculty have put together to help us all become more educated on this important matter. Although Rice will not be speaking during commencement, her actions still affect us all. The ignorance displayed by the reactions of some who are upset by this outcome is a sign that this issue is far from over. If this entire situation has taught us anything, it’s the importance of becoming informed and active members of our society. That is the first step in creating a world where each individual’s basic human rights matter and are not violated.
Jaweerya Mohammad is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in English with a minor in education.