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MALIK: Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers attack did not occur in isolation

The attack on the Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers is the result of the lack of protection for Muslim students. – Photo by Evan Leong

When I wrote an opinion article about the need for Rutgers to do more to protect its Palestinian and Muslim students in regard to the peaceful chalk drawings being removed, I did not think that six months later I would be sitting down to write the same exact message with the same hopes of change.

This past Wednesday, the Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers University (CILRU) was vandalized. The perpetrators vandalized windows, smashed a TV and destroyed religious pieces. Additionally, a Palestinian flag was ripped from a pole and stolen. The occurrence of this attack on the day of an Islamic celebration, Eid al-Fitr, and targeting the gathering space for many Muslims on campus creates the grounds for a biased crime that will be investigated as a hate crime.

The Islamophobic attack is particularly concerning, given that the University has more than 6,000 Muslim students and made history as the nation's first public university with a full-time Muslim chaplain. Though the University has welcomed diversity in groundbreaking ways due to its diverse student body makeup, post-Oct. 7, 2023, the University Administration has, in my opinion, undoubtedly played a role in creating an increasingly unsafe campus environment.

This vandalism is a crime of hate as much as it is a crime with the hopes of silencing a community that has consistently and nonviolently spoken up for Palestine. This action does not exist without the persistent effort of silencing Rutgers' students, Muslim and Palestinian, by the Rutgers administration.

Humanizing individuals begins with the acknowledgment of not only people, but also their suffering. It should be noted that it took University President Jonathan Holloway more than a week and three statements to mention Palestinians by name after the beginning of the conflict, with heavily biased one-sided emails.

This was an effort that effectively denied Palestinians, on and off campus, their identity and humanity. After one statement, with the mention of Palestinians, Holloway went back to completely eliminating the mention of Palestinian students, showing an extended denial of their existence and limiting their cultural history, identity and suffering to the geographical region of the "Middle East."

For Palestinian students worried about their families during a tumultuous time, I can only imagine how disheartening it would be to see individuals with power disregard not only their humanity but also their families as well. Would it have been so hard to acknowledge Palestinians in an email as a comfort to students? If we can state that "hate has no place at Rutgers," should that void be filled with indifference?

The incessant silencing progressed with the suspension of Students for Justice in Palestine at Rutgers—New Brunswick (SJP) at an unfortunate time — finals week. Despite the incident that created the basis for suspension, the occupation of the Rutgers Business School on Livingston campus and alleged vandalism, taking place on Nov. 29, 2023, SJP learned they were suspended on Dec. 12, 2023, which was "coincidentally" the beginning of finals week for the Fall 2023 semester.

Students involved with SJP had to juggle both suspension and finals, a stress that undoubtedly could affect their academic performance. The poor timing of this seemed to tell students to stop organizing or your position as students at this university would be jeopardized.

The stifling of student activism was perhaps no more clear than with the Rutgers University Student Assembly referendum. An email from Holloway gave the reassurance that "request for divestment from companies doing business in Israel was presented to (the University's Joint Committee on Investments) in 2020 and it did not move forward" and stood in defense of Rutgers' connections to Tel Aviv University as a relationship of enrichment.

This statement from Holloway seemed to have been made to reassure students of the futility of their votes and student governance in the face of the administration.

It is another effort to force students into believing that their voices will not be heard. It is forcing students into an understanding that no matter how much they try, no matter how loud they are, no matter how many votes they can gather, they have no power in what is being done with their tuition money.

With this email, Holloway effectively disengages with any form of dialogue with students despite his own calls for us to be "civil, decent and understanding of one another." This disengagement extended to the Assembly's town hall with Holloway, where there was a lack of an open mic to communicate concerns and an early exit made by the University president.

His exit showed his inability to treat students as worthy of dialogue and extended his portrayal of students as hostile when all they want is to be acknowledged, not blatantly ignored.

Holloway and the Rutgers administration have consistently treated Muslim and Palestinian students with a lack of proper dialogue and understanding. They have disengaged with students and made many efforts to silence them. Muslim and Palestinian students have consistently been portrayed as hostile for their efforts to make their frustrations with the administration known.

The CILRU attack did not take place in a vacuum, but rather a culture created by the administration to silence students and demonize students for caring. Though the attack was an unfortunate incident, I can only hope that it will make the University reassess its actions and how it can embolden individuals with hateful views.

I hope the administration is able to view Muslim and Palestinian students with greater understanding and compassion. After all, these protests, the referendum and the calls to action are all just an effort to be heard and feel heard.

Sehar Malik is a sophomore in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and minoring in French. Malik’s column, “People Talking” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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