Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

Students, administration respond to divisive Halloween posting

Michael Tabb | Student Life

Students gather at the Danforth University Center to listen to the MSA’s discussion of its experiencies with racism and Islamophobia. MSA held the Solidarity Forum at the DUC in response to a controversial photo posted on Facebook.

One by one, Muslim students and their peers passed the microphone to discuss past experiences with racism and Islamophobia.

For many of them, these memories resurfaced when a Halloween photo of students costumed in military garb in what some argued was a depiction of Osama bin Laden, others as a stereotypical Muslim at gunpoint, surfaced on Facebook last Wednesday.

An open solidarity forum hosted by the Muslim Students Association on Thursday offered students the chance to share their experiences with racism and discuss ideas for future prevention of acts that could be considered inflammatory.

The photo, which some students defended as a depiction of Navy SEAL Team 6 and Osama bin Laden, went viral Wednesday night and kicked off a discussion about how the University handles incidents students may find racially or otherwise offensive, an issue that the Mosaic Project was and is intended to address.

“The gravity of this matter extends much beyond the photo itself,” MSA president and senior Ishaq Winters said. “The ensuing, oftentimes hateful comments of fellow students expose wider concerns…the silence on the part of the administration and majority of our student body speaks to the systemic nature of the challenges to our university’s principles of inclusion and equality, challenges that we must address moving forward.”

The event, held in Tisch Commons, was hugely attended by members of MSA, other students and administrators.

Winters, along with Jenni Harpring, program manager for the Gephardt Institute for Public Service, served as moderators for the event. They stressed that it was meant to center on the larger context of the photo and the University’s response to it rather than the costumes themselves.

Several students from the MSA shared stories of discrimination from their childhoods and from their time at Washington University post-9/11. Some mentioned bullying, hateful comments and actual violence directed toward them and their families.

Freshman Imran Mumtaz said that he didn’t find the photo particularly shocking after growing up in the South and facing Islamophobic tension for much of his childhood but saw it as an indication for the need for more frequent discussion.

“I strongly believe that the people involved in the image are college students just like us, and we’ll consider that they made a mistake. At the end of all of this, we need to accept that we need to forgive them,” Mumtaz said. “What we need to take away from this is that we need to not just have one event and say, ‘I recognize these issues exist. I tried to commit to change by going to a solidarity forum.’ Yeah, great. But we need to realize that we need to have these discussions every day.”

Non-Muslim students also shared their responses to the post and their opinions about possible avenues for improvement in prevention and responses. Some expressed concerns about a lack of empathy and a sentiment of resignation toward racism within the community as well as the absence of a simple way to report and handle situations of racism and bias.

Senior Gaby Dinkin, chair of the Diversity Affairs Council and leader in the Mosaic Project, responded to students’ concerns by saying that the Bias Response System would be released in the spring semester.

Many students left the event feeling very impressed by the way the MSA conducted the event.

“I thought that [the MSA] handled it really well. They were definitely open to everyone voicing their opinions, and I like how they made it very clear that this was for solidarity, not just as a response,” freshman Shivani Desai, a member of the DAC, said.

Following the remarks of several students, Vice Chancellor for Students Sharon Stahl expressed her apologies for the delayed reaction to the event.

“I am the person, the only person, to whom this posting was sent on Halloween; I made a grave mistake in not responding sooner than I did. I deeply regret that,” Stahl said. “If I could go back and undo this, I would, but I can’t, so I have to accept the responsibility of my mistake. I apologize, and I hope that moving forward you will be able to find it in your hearts to give me that grace.”

After Stahl’s apologies, Provost Holden Thorp committed to improving the response to such events in the future.

“I think that in the future, as soon as anyone in the administration—that goes from housing all the way to the chancellor—hears of an incident where a student doesn’t feel safe, that it needs to get reported up the chain as quickly as possible,” Thorp said. “We need to develop a better understanding of how that needs to be done, and we will.”

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  • It's O.K. Bin Laden had it comming says:

    MY god are these students idiots! No, pictures of a fake Navy Six Seal Team killing Osama Bin Laden is NOT insensitive. Bin Laden was responsible for the killings of 3,000 Americans on one single day (Sept. 11th 2001). You know what, any student calling it racism should be in trouble not the other way around!

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  • n_slash_a says:

    Just curious, I wonder how many of the non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other Muslim countries have “Islamaphobia” because their friends, families, and neighbors have been beheaded because they were not Muslim. It is amazing how committing mass murder and mass rape will tend to cause people to be afraid of you. Or the story of a women who has executed because she dared to go to the grocery store without a male escort. Or the story of a women who was beaten because she spoke without her husbands permission. Nope, no reason to fear the Muslim cult.

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  • davidstar says:

    The fauxtrage reminds of why I hate leftists, and, in particular, sanctimonious leftist students.

    Obama’s popular with students, correct? I am led to believe they’re his people. Students voted en masse in 2012.

    Remind me again. What was one of the memes repeated ad nauseam by that dope Biden, Obama, and Democrats in general.

    Oh yeah.General Motors is alive. And BIN LADEN IS DEAD.

    Sort of like what those students did.

    Remind me again, what was Obama’s stance on same-sex marriage this time last year. Oh yeah. AGAINST.

    Guess he was a Nazi homophobe back then.

    Students. Hypocritical dead heads. Well, leftists are.

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  • Bastiat Fan says:

    What a bunch of whiny morons. HINT: indulging your special snowflake status with politically correct nonsense like this will NOT enhance your resume, or make you in any way more likely to get hired. Google “Frankfurt School” and find out where political correctness comes from, and the real goal of so-called “critical theory.”

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  • dakota100 says:

    Let me suggest that this issue would be an excellent reason to hold a symposium on what the believers of our planet’s 3 monotheisms are actually doing for, or against, our fellow human beings.

    Here is a possible title (feel free to suggest others) – “Judaism, Christianity, Islam : their presence in Century 21″.

    And, because at important events the participants know whereof they speak (so attendees can avoid wasting precious time) here are several sources for FACTS about Islam — its long history and social context today:

    1. “Islam 101 by Gregory M. Davis” will, if Googled, bring up a thorough timeline well elaborated upon. Be aware that Mr. Davis’s scholarship is comprehensive. Set aside a dedicated hour without distractions.

    2. www [dot] inquiryintoislam [dot] com. That website emphasizes that the overwhelming percentage of Muslims are fully deserving of the same standard of respect which other faith’s adherents merit.

    3. www [dot] citizenwarrior [dot] com. This URL leads to a deep resource of realities and observations : some posted and others hotlinked. Just as worthy of study as the 2 foundational paths listed above, anyone who visits it will leave immensely more knowledgeable.

    I ask readers here and students committed to a symposium’s creation for online vectors about Judaism and Christianity — leads which are also factually rigorous. Campus Muslims ought to be the first delivering suggestions.

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  • T says:

    As an international student from the middle east, who was raised Muslim, it offends me that people are offended by that photo. What are we going to do about that?

    The terrorist being portrayed in the photo has no relation to my religion, or to my people. In fact outcries like these seem nothing but attention-seeking and use the religion to serve a person’s goals. I may be missing the mark here, or I may be offending more people. I’m sorry if that is the case. Make me understand, or get over it.

    I think it is also important to note that I have never felt targeted because of who I am or where I am from on this campus. We have some of the smartest and friendliest communities at WashU. If you have a problem with someone, talk about it to that person/people before making it a huge public discussion, victimizing your peers, who may be victims to a misunderstanding. Because that above all seems to be the sinister move to me.

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    • ganesha says:

      Here we see an extraordinarily courageous statement.

      If one wishes to ban (alleged) “offensive” speech, then one must first address the concurrent offenses arising from Candor-phobia– the fear of and revulsion toward perfectly legitimate criticisms of Islam and sharia.

      Secular Muslims (interested in reform) are routinely slandered for (alleged) “hate” precisely because too many Leftists still fear being accused (falsely) of bigotry by MSA Islamo-supremacists, more than they fear being branded (accurately) as craven for abandoning the defense of human rights.

      Likeminded secular Muslims will find support by researching “The St. Petersburg Declaration.”

      Grade: A (Audacious)

      #Applause

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    • Alum11 says:

      If only Mahroh shared your wisdom. I saw her being interviewed for News Channel 5, and she said that the students in the photo had messaged her, but she ignored them because she wanted the administration to deal with it. That is extremely shameful, immature, and lazy.

      I was shocked. Here is this tirade about opening a dialogue and raising hell, yet she refused to engage with the parties that offended her. How else are we able to properly handle our issues? I can respect rights/opinions yada yada, but after seeing this story develop and see her response, I had no sympathy for her, as she came across as self-indulgent, pretentious, and hypocritical. Ironically, she did more harm than good to herself, the WashU community, and the Muslim community…and THAT is an outrage.

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  • Really? says:

    The reason this event “hit close to home” is that Muslim members of our community have been physically threatened because they look like “terrorists.” No one is trying to take away free speech. The MSA was attempting to explain why many found the photo upsetting. If their stories of discrimination, intimidation, and violence aren’t good enough for you, I’m not sure what could be.

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    • ganesha says:

      “Muslim members of our community have been physically threatened”?

      RUBBISH! Evidence please. There isn’t a single documented case of assault. None. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

      Don’t parrot refried taqiyya lies your whole life.

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      • Anonymous says:

        You clearly haven’t talked to anyone or attended the forum or you’d have heard from the horse’s mouth exactly what is meant by that. I’m astounded that you’d brush off life experiences that you know nothing about.

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        • ganesha says:

          pffl… specious anecdotes are not evidence.

          Rational folks are astonished that academic dhimmis prefer blissful ignorance and naivete over educated awareness of MSA sharia obligations to indulge taqiyya and kitman.

          Grade: D (Dhimmi)

          #Dismissed

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      • American says:

        Who pays you?

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  • Socrates says:

    How is the photo racist? If students portrayed Al Capone being arrested, would that be a slander against Italian-Americans? What race is Islam? Does Osama Bin Laden represent Islam? If he does not, then why be offended? Do Halloween costumes need to be approved by WashU’s administration from now on? Is it their job to prevent students from being offended?

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    • Morton says:

      I would say, yes, it is the administration’s job to provide a safe educational atmosphere that shields, to the best of their ability, students from being offended.

      It is well within the rights of those students to dress as they did for Halloween, and it is well within the purvey of the administration and student body to use it as an opportunity for honest discussion of racial attitudes on campus.

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      • Bastiat Fan says:

        Really? Where does this “right” to not EVER BE OFFENDED come from? Progressives sling c— every day that I find DEEPLY offensive, but I’m not calling for their speech to be censored. On the contrary: sunlight is the best disinfectant for progressive infestations.

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      • Patriot Sam says:

        “…it is the administration’s job to provide a safe educational atmosphere that shields, to the best of their ability, students from being offended.”

        The 1st Amendment guarrantees freedom of speech, not freedom FROM offense. It is not the government’s or any school’s job to ensure you are not offended.

        As a functioning member of society and a rational human being it is your responsibility to decide what offends you and learn how to deal with your response.

        What kind of whining child thinks the University is responsible to prevent you from being offended. Do your parents still change your diapers? Did your mother protect you on the playground as well? Grow up or crawl back into the womb.

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  • Alum13 says:

    A lot of the individuals who criticized MSA members’ reactions to the photo seemed to share the thought, “It is not reasonable or rational for someone to see this photo and feel upset.”

    When someone is hurt, and you do not understand why, you can:

    A) Make assumptions (They just want attention! Their feelings are not important enough to prompt discussion or change! I know better.)
    B) Try to fix your lack of understanding by listening and asking questions.

    I don’t think that anyone who attended the open forum and listened to these strong individuals recount the memories of pain that the photo and controversy triggered could decide that their feelings are unreasonable.

    Thank you, MSA, for providing this opportunity to learn how to better empathize with each other.

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    • ganesha says:

      Hurt is in the eye of the beholder. Most Americans are hurt over the thought of academics sympathizing with Islamo-supremacists on Veterans Day.

      Conversely, UBL satire is protected political speech.

      MSA owes the academic community an apology for stalking and harrassing these creative artists.

      Try harder to avoid blaming the victims.

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      • Anonymous says:

        Where is the stalking and harassing? They specifically are not seeking punishment and instead focusing on the Islamophobia. Can you imagine the backlash if this had been anti-semitic? And Jews today are hardly discriminated against like Muslim/Sikh/all brown people are post 9/11.

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        • Orion's Organ says:

          I can. It would’ve been non-existent. Something much worse happened two years ago to the Jewish community: swastikas were scratched into cars belonging to members of ZBT, which were parked outside of Chabad. What was the Jewish response, you ask? Rabbi Hershey Novak of Chabad had this to say: “We [at Chabad] do not feel threatened. I imagine that the perpetrator did not understand the depth of meaning associated with using a swastika.”

          You heard it right. One of the single most offensive symbols imaginable displayed outside a Jewish institution, used to attack a traditionally-Jewish fraternity, and the closest thing to an official response we can get is one of tolerance.

          >And Jews today are hardly discriminated against like Muslim/Sikh/all brown people are post 9/11.

          I don’t know you, but I imagine you being one of those annoying people who shout about how white privileged individuals can’t possibly understand racism and structural violence and blah blah blah oppressed black people. This is an extraordinarily ignorant statement, and you probably have no idea what you’re talking about. Try being a Jew in a non-Jewish area.

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        • ganesha says:

          “Where is the stalking and harrassing?” You can’t be serious?

          MSA, et.al. have practically formed a lynch mob to pillory, harrass and demonize a small group ofinnocent creative artists.

          You fallacious (tu quoque) accusations that “Jews” face less discrimination than “Muslim” are both irrelevant and false. FBI statistics prove that Jews remain the faith group most likely to be targeted in hate crimes.

          The MSA and the Administration owes these creative satirists a MONETARY apology for trampling on their 1st Amendment rights of free expression and creating a hostile educational environment.

          Advice to Satirists: Lawyer up and sue these University administrators.
          http://thefire.org/cases/submit/

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  • Samual I says:

    If anything the MSA should be supporting the public humiliation of islamic terrorism not pretending it does not exist; makes you think it must be hitting close to home.

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  • ganesha says:

    “prevention of acts that could be considered inflammatory”

    Free Speech IS inflammatory. That’s a feature, not a problem.

    See also, Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988)

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  • Hey Sharon says:

    Sharon Stahl: when are you going to apologize to SAE for unfairly suspending them? Those were students who were actually victimized – by the administration, no less – but does the fact that they were (mostly) white members of a fraternity mean that they’re below your obsequious apologies? Remember how you and much of the student body accused them of being filthy racists before bothering to learn the facts? Unless it’s your goal to drive whites out of this institution, it’s time to start building bridges, not burning them.

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  • Super Star says:

    Here’s a fun article. We shouldn’t let hurt feelings dictate our actions and statements. http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/11/06/nyc-police-commissioner-protest-stop-frisk-column/3457369/

    To Imran Mumtaz: while your forgiveness is appreciated, it’s not needed, and we’d prefer that you be more open-minded.

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