On Thursday, April 21st, one of our classmates woke up to defamatory allegations and a barrage of hate mail following the Tzipi Livni event. Some of these allegations linked to articles she had written in the past. Some found and posted her picture online. Some went so far as to demand that her recently awarded fellowship be revoked. All called her an anti-Semite.
In addition to the cyber harassment and threats, some of our classmates confronted her about her involvement in an event that she did not attend and knew nothing about. She was targeted for no reason other than her affiliation with the Muslim Law Students Association.
For almost two weeks now, a barrage of threats has poured in against Muslim students in our community. These students — including the uninvolved student described above — have watched their personal information get released on the Internet and have been targeted by a steady stream of character defamation and blatant racism. They have been accused of terrorist associations and threatened with violence.
Two weeks ago, Dean Minow sent a strongly worded email about the Livni event. The same words apply now with equal if not greater force, but they have not been forthcoming. So we supply them again here.
It is “deeply disturbing” that the Harvard Law School administration kept silent for so many days about these attacks on its Muslim students. The hateful comments directed at the Muslim students are “offensive.” The threats against them have “violated the trust and respect we expect in our community.”
Several days after being made aware of these threats, the administration repeatedly declined the uninvolved student’s requests that the school issue a public statement of support, even as it recommended to the targeted students that they get security. Only after a faculty member became involved did Dean Sells send an email. Unlike the email following the Livni incident, this email did not come from Dean Minow and went only to students, not the broader HLS community. Dean Sells’ email was heartfelt and rightly noted that the uninvolved student was targeted based on nothing more than her affiliation with the Muslim Law Students Association. Still, the email did not adequately address the insidiousness and violence of anti-Muslim bigotry and instead chided students about “incivility” and shifted the blame to “every hater in the online universe.”
This is not just a question of whether our peers conduct themselves, as Dean Sells puts it, with “civility and respect.” Nor is it about whether the school has the ability to control Internet trolls. It is about the administration’s reluctance to acknowledge a national and institutional climate of anti-Muslim bigotry in the face of violent threats to members of our community. It is about the characterization of student attempts to highlight the disproportionate impact of post-9/11 detention policies on Arab and South Asian men as unnecessarily injecting ‘normative priors’ into the conversation about national security. It is about the international law classes that represent Muslim-majority countries as ‘enemy’ territories without challenging the conflation of faith and national identity that plagues this discourse. It is about the administration’s pattern of prioritizing political expediency over the politically unpopular needs and concerns of Muslim students –even when their physical safety is at risk.
As Dean Minow reminded us in her email two weeks ago, “the fact that speech is and should be free does not mean that hateful remarks should go unacknowledged or unanswered in a community.” Yet the plainly hateful and racist assaults against Muslim students remain unanswered by Dean Minow and unacknowledged to any non-student member of this community.
This community cannot selectively enforce the “values we seek to uphold.” The administration’s belated and tepid denunciation of ad hominem attacks against its Muslim students is an “embarrassment to this institution and an assault upon” these shared values. Just as Dean Minow promptly, publicly, and unequivocally denounced anti-Semitism as a violation of these values, so too should she condemn hateful speech and threats of violence against Muslim students.
Sadly, the administration has frequently turned a blind eye to the needs of minority students on campus. And it is in danger of doing it again.
In response, we, the undersigned Harvard Law student groups, call on the HLS community to join us in “upstanding” in solidarity against all threats and hate speech, including anti-Muslim hate speech, and in urging our administration to do more to address the needs of the Muslim student body.
If you would like to stand with us, please sign here.
“This is a moment for each of us” — including the administration — to ask, “What kind of community can we make together?” And how can we make sure that all students feel safe, welcome, and valued as part of the Harvard Law School community?
Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA)
Harvard African Law Students Association (HALA)
Harassment/Assault Legal Team (HALT)
Harvard Black Law Students Against Islamophobia*
Journal on Racial and Ethnic Justice (JREJ)
Muslim Law Students Association (MLSA)
Students for Inclusion (SFI)
Queer Trans People of Color (QTPOC)
The 2015-2016 MLSA Board: Mariam Boxwala, Zain Jinnah, Aya Saed, Osama Shabaik, Mohammad Sherine, Aida Vajzovic, Noor Zafar;
The 2016-2017 APALSA Co-Presidents: Amanda Chan and Kevin Jiang;
The 2016 HALT Co-Presidents: Katherine Leung and Sarah Gutman;
The JREJ Volume 32 Editor-in-Chief Catherine Howard;
The 2015-2016 La Alianza President: Nadia Arid;
The 2016-2017 Lambda Co-President: Mariel Hooper;
The 2015-2016 SFI Board: Keaton Allen-Gessesse, Antuan Johnson, Rena Karefa-Johnson, Faye Maison, Alex Santa Ana; and
The 2016-2017 QTPOC Co-Presidents: Cameron Clark and Amanda Gomez
as representing their respective student organizations.
*This group represents BLSA members would like to stand in solidarity with MLSA and other affinity groups:
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