By Corinne Murdock |
At the end of September, three female students took it upon themselves to defend an unofficially-established multicultural center at the Arizona State University (ASU) Tempe campus by segregating those unwelcome in the longtime common room: white males with what appeared to be differing political beliefs. After two of the students, Sarra Tekola and Mastaani Qureshi, received a punishment of a reflection essay and light warning from the university, the activist pair spoke out in a video posted last week to the Instagram page for their activist group, the Multicultural Solidarity Coalition (MSC). The third student involved, Miriam “Mimi” Araya, wasn’t found guilty of any code of conduct violations.
In their nine-minute video, Tekola and Qureshi claimed that ASU was toxic and a training ground for Nazis and white supremacy. Two ASU professors submitted videos to support the activist pair: English professor Lee Bebout and School of Social Transformation Director Camilla Fojas.
At the time of the incident, ASU claimed to AZ Free News that the three women were engaged in a “disagreement” highlighting “differences of opinion” that were “part of the university experience.” Then, AZ Free News reported last month that the women were being investigated for code of conduct violations.
When the three women recorded their confrontation with two white male students, they demanded that the pair leave because they were white, male, and displaying perceived controversial political messaging: a ‘Police Lives Matter’ sticker, a Bass Pro Shop hat, a Chick-fil-A cup, and a ‘Did Not Vote for Biden’ t-shirt. The three women called the pair “racist” and “Karens,” while accusing them of promoting murderers and white supremacy.
A week prior to their exhortation video against ASU, MSC lamented that the university continued to uphold “respectability politics.” That concept claims that marginalized groups shouldn’t adhere to any cultural or political norms of their oppressors in attempts to reconcile differences.
The following are the complete remarks from Tekola and Qureshi’s video complaint:
Qureshi: On September 23, hateful and racist symbology invaded our Multicultural Center on ASU’s Tempe Campus, and made the center unsafe for BIPOC [Black Indigenous People of Color] students who were trying to study. The two white men, both students, displayed a ‘Police Lives Matter’ sticker, a Bass Pro hat, a Chick-fil-A cup, and an anti-Biden t-shirt.
Tekola: The Police Lives Matter sticker was on one of the white man’s laptop, [sic] laptop which was clearly directed towards a black woman who was leading the black study tables across from him, as the boys chose to sit across from the black study tables. The boys made the space uncomfortable with their nonverbal, aggressive gestures directed towards the black women. The students called for help from ASU but no one came for over 30 minutes, so we were forced to confront these men by ourselves.
Qureshi: After this incident we received thousands of rape, death, and lynching threats on our personal Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and email accounts. It has been more than two months since the incident, and Zarra and I receive these threats every single day.
Tekola: ASU was aware of how we were getting doxxed and suffering psychological and emotional violence by white supremacists across the country, but it still did not protect us. Instead, they launched an investigation against us and we had to mobilize the community to protect ourselves from being kicked out by the institution. ASU’s investigation found us guilty of interfering with university activities.
Qureshi and Tekola: Dear white people: aka, ASU.
Qureshi: You openly discriminated against us on November 16 when you handed down your decision from your racially biased investigation. We are being persecuted for defending our Multicultural Center from racism and sexism. You gave us two punishments: the first one was a warning, and the second one as to write a three page paper on how next time when we talk with white people about race and society we will be civil.
Tekola: This video is a fulfillment of our educational intervention. We are going to give ASU an educational intervention on why telling students of color at ASU to be more civil in the face of white supremacy and neo-Nazism on this campus is actually violent.
Qureshi: ASU is a violent place. Just last week there was an Islamaphobic attack at ASU in which pages from Quran Majeed, the holiest book for Mulsims, were ripped apart and burned for Muslim students to find in the interfaith room. The interfaith room is they only place on campus where Muslim students are told they should pray in. Meanwhile there are multiple small rooms in the multicultural center at ASU Tempe that Muslim women, who are looking for a private place to pray in, are locked out of. We are told the reason that Musllim women cannot use those small spaces to pray in is because it would not be equal.
Tekola: You see, this is the problem: ASU does not understand the difference between equity and equality. And ASU refuses to center the most marginalized. In addition to that hate crime, around October 31 another hate crime happened at ASU Tempe where anti-Semitism flyers littered the campus. These flyers had an ASU registered student club, the College Republicans United, on the flyer. This is the same club that raised money for Kyle Rittenhouse, and these are just the attacks that happened since our own viral incident on September 23. This tells you a little bit about the type of environment, the toxic place that ASU wants us to be civil in.
[clip of Tekola speaking at a protest]: I have come to MLK’s conclusion that I have integrated my people into a burning building. ASU is on fire. For years, ASU has refused to put out a statement condemning white supremacy after being used as a recruiting ground for Nazis, breeding the culture of hate on this campus. They claim it is because of ‘free speech,’ and yet we students of color are being punished for our free speech. I am being punished for being too black, too proud, too loud, and unapologetic. I am being punished for not adopting their respectability politics, but I don’t need respectability politics. I am a foreign fellow appointed by President Crowe himself to the African Advisory Council. I achieved all this while refusing to tone down my blackness to make white people feel more comfortable. Our center has been infiltrated by Trump supporters, and ASU is telling us ‘there’s nothing we can do.’ ASU refuses to protect students of color and the world needs to know how they treat us here on this campus when we push to make it a better place for all.
Bebout (in a clip): Calls for civil dialogue can be weaponized in two critical ways. First, if a white person actively trolls and provokes an encounter but does so in a relatively complicit way — say they enter a space meant to foreground the experiences of people of color, and these folks deploy a rhetoric meant to diminish black and queer lives — as long as the trolling is plausibly deniable to an ideologically white-oriented audience, that any pushback that the white individuals receive may be cast as aggression. The act of instigation itself would be erased, and the instigators will be cast as victims, and the people who seek to defend themselves will be seen as oppressors, uncivil, harassers. Second, because of the way in which civil and rational dialogue is racially coded, when white-aligned institutions call for people of color to be civil to interlocutors that have no interest in earnestly engaging and listening; whether intentionally or not, these institutions are asking people of color and other aggrieved communities to be quieter. They are asking them to be less vociferous in their defense of their personhood. In other words, calls for civility easily become calls for docility: a submission to the way things are, as opposed to a vocal defense of the world as it should be.
Qureshi (in two separate clips from speeches at protests): ASU is angry at me, and wants me to put me back in my place as a brown woman. ASU is punishing us for standing up for our friends and other students of color. ASU is punishing us for telling two white boys that only one room on campus is not going to center them. […] If you all didn’t see it yesterday, the provost of this university, Nancy Gonzales, sent out a statement yesterday in response to the 3,511-plus messages received in support of us. In her statement, Nancy Gonzales tries to sympathize with Zarra, Mimi, and I and assures everyone that ASU is handling this case with cultural awareness. But in her statement, she misspells my first name! How are you going to support me if you even can’t spell my first name correctly on an appropriate statement. This is the level of care ASU has for us: they’re insensitive to Pakistani and Muslim cultures. They want us to turn in a written statement by December 15 explaining how we will be civil and how, and I quote, ‘You might approach such a situation in the future to facilitate a civil dialogue on the purpose of the MC [Multicultural Center] or the topics of race and society are addressed in this confrontation.’ They want me to be civil! They’re calling me a savage! This is what white people did when they came to my country and they colonized us for 270 years!
Fojas (in a clip): […] I think their reaction was justified and was equal to the symbolic violence that these students and their presence and the symbols that were brought into the space represented.
Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.