September 16, 2019 | 74° F

GUC: U. must acknowledge anti-Muslim biases

Opinions Column: Macro to Micro

I was leaving the interfaith meditation room located on the lower floor of the College Avenue Student Center when something scribbled on the wall adjacent to the room’s entrance caught my attention. “Drain the swamp,” it read. This is a phrase that has been utilized by many politicians in the past, the most recent being the current president-elect. It tends to refer to the action of purging a government of existing internal corruption. Thus, one can imagine my surprise when I saw it penned onto a wall that is located right next to a space publicly used on a daily basis for prayer and reflection by many students, a majority of which identify as Muslim. What was the correlation between the meaning of the phrase and the space it was drawn near? Needless to say, I took out my phone and photographed it. That same day, I filed a bias incident report to the University.

One day after the election results were declared, Muslim students at New York University awoke to find that the word “Trump!” had been flagrantly scrawled on the door of their prayer space. Many saw the defacement as an open threat to the safety and security of students. I wonder: With what intention was “Drain the swamp” written on the wall of my university? What message was the individual trying to imply? It is clear that it was meant as an act of intimidation to the Muslim community on campus, yet even the choice of phrase in the vandalism demonstrates a degree of ignorance. However, that individual’s potential ignorance in the actual meaning of the phrase should not cause one to overlook the open feeling of enmity it was intended to reflect. In other words, the individual was expressing the idea that we, students who are under the umbrella of the title “Muslim” are not welcome here on campus, nor should we feel safe. The implication of the writing can go so far as to say that just as a government is to be purged of corruption, this campus will also be purged of Muslims. Is this not an open declaration of hate and a warning of a menacing nature? Is this not enough to cause worry and concern for the security of those targeted by such a message? Or will the administration also dismissively call it freedom of speech? For how long will the university refuse to acknowledge the looming reality that Muslim students — along with other minorities targeted in the past by similar acts — must live and learn under?

This was the second bias incident report I filed to the University this semester. About two months ago, I was also verbally attacked on campus by individuals in a passing vehicle. My initial report was promptly acknowledged by a dean, which I was appreciative of, and while he was sincere and empathetic in his response, I want to now ask the Rutgers administration: What are the active steps being taken to combat such situations? My experience was a minor, perhaps inconsequential, example of the many acts of anti-Muslim sentiment happening each day. What are the measures being enacted to protect the safety and well-being of a specific group of students on campus, which make up roughly 11.2 percent of the student body? I do not see any public announcement, let alone email, of support and solicitude for the approximately 4,000 Muslim students of Rutgers University. Blanket statements are insufficient. If students of a particular faith or of a particular ethnicity or of a particular legal status are being conspicuously targeted, then a clear, specific statement in solidarity with those groups of students is mandated.

A day later, when I went to the interfaith meditation room again, I realized that the wall was cleared of the writing. As it should be. However, where is the recognition that it had occurred? When a crime happens on campus, community members are alerted of it, even if it has already been addressed. Removing all traces of the vandal act without acknowledging that it existed is an erasure of the threat that was being conveyed. I am also still awaiting a response for my bias incident report. Perhaps some will think that I am dramatically escalating an insignificant scribble. But to me and to those whom it was addressing, that insignificant scribble is a physical manifestation of the bigoted and pervasive rhetoric that furthers the fear that weighs on the shoulders of our parents over our well-being. I do not want to passively wait for the next incident that will confirm and actualize that fear. I call upon the University to take heed and act.

Aysenur Guc is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in philosophy. Her column, "Macro to Micro," runs monthly on Fridays.

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Aysenur Guc

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