Chancellor Martin reprehends removal of flags and announces investigation, does not address Islamophobic hatred and threats

| Senior News Editor
A brick tower with a turret stands in front of a blue sky framed by trees and a red and white flag on the left side.

The towers of Brookings Hall on Sunday evening. (Photo by Curran Neenan | Student Life)

Editor’s note: This story discusses Islamophobia and the toll of 9/11. We have listed resources for people directly affected by these topics at the end of this piece.

Chancellor Andrew Martin again condemned the removal of commemorative 9/11 flags from Mudd Field in an email to the Washington University community Sunday evening, emphasizing the importance of free speech on campus without mentioning the extensive Islamophobic threats directed at the student who removed the flags, Student Union Vice President of Finance senior Fadel Alkilani.

“I want to make it very clear that, as an institution, we find the actions of this student to be reprehensible,” Martin wrote. “The removal of the flags impeded the ability of individuals to commemorate the lives lost on 9/11 and to process the trauma of that day.”

Martin’s email did not name Alkilani and did not detail any disciplinary actions, though he said the University would investigate. 

“For such an incident to take place on September 11, a time of pain and reflection for so many, makes this situation especially difficult,” the chancellor wrote. “There should be space both for recalling the traumatic memories of that day and for considering its long-term historical implications.”

The College Republicans had lined Mudd Field Friday with 2,977 American flags to commemorate the lives lost in the 9/11 attacks. Sophomore Nathaniel Hope recorded a video, which later circulated widely, of Alkilani removing the flags and placing them in trash bags Saturday morning. Hope also sent Student Life a video showing American flags in a trash can outside Seigle Hall, though the video did not show Alkilani placing the flags in the can. In his statement Saturday night, Alkilani wrote he “did not deface, destroy, damage, nor steal any flags, nor did I interfere with any registered event time.”

Alkilani wrote that he was planning to protest the memorial by placing the bags of flags with additional statistics outlining the lives lost or displaced due to American intervention in the Middle East and Islamophobia in the past 20 years since 9/11.

Alkilani has been doxxed, threatened and targeted with hate speech since the removal of the flags as the situation has garnered national attention. Conservative media outlets’ coverage of the events has also led to widespread Islamophobic comments and posts on social media. Martin’s statement did not mention these sentiments, only citing vaguely the campus resources the University is providing Alkilani to navigate “the consequences of his actions, both on campus and beyond.”

[Muslim students express fear for their safety on campus following Islamaphobic online reactions to flag removal]

Alkilani is facing calls for his removal from SU, with some people also advocating for his expulsion from the University. Martin’s statement said the University is investigating the incident and following “standard protocols.”

“I assert that I did not violate any University Code of Conduct policy, though the conduct process is undergoing,” Alkilani wrote in his statement. 

The Code of Conduct policy prohibits the “theft, attempted theft, unauthorized taking or use of any University, public, or private property,” “unauthorized entry, deliberate destruction of, damage to, malicious use of, or abuse of any University, public, or private property,” and the “interfering with the rights of other members of the University community or visitors to the University to engage in educational, recreational, residential, administrative, professional, business, and ceremonial activities, or other functions,” but does not provide additional details about the transgressions.

The SU executive board members, excluding Alkilani, released an official statement on social media Sunday evening clarifying their lack of involvement in Alkilani’s actions and said they were also discussing next steps.

“SU was not involved in organizing or executing Fadel’s protest, and we do not endorse or condone his behavior,” the statement read. “We mourn with students on our campus and those across the country in remembrance of the 2,977 souls lost in New York City, Washington DC, and Shanksville, PA in 2001, and the thousands of first responders who died from health complications in the years following. We also unequivocally condemn the Islamophobic rhetoric and slurs that have been used against him and other Muslim students on campus.”

Martin wrote that the commemoration on Mudd Field was not just a memorial but also an act of speech and that “it is imperative that everyone here is able to express their views in a respectful environment. Students have the right to express their viewpoints, but they also have the obligation to respect others’ expressions.”

SU’s statement also highlighted the importance of free speech on campus, emphasizing that attacks on activists are especially dangerous.

“Free speech and political protest are central tenets of higher education, and calls to attack and persecute activists attack the foundation of a free democracy,” SU’s statement read.

Matthew Friedman contributed reporting

The Muslim Wellness Foundation’s Community Trauma Toolkit offers resources and advice for coping with grief, trauma and microaggressions.

Naseeha is a helpline for Muslim youth to receive immediate, anonymous and confidential support by phone call or text to 1-866-627-3342 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. CST every day.

Tuesday’s Children is an organization that supports communities recovering from large-scale tragedies and mass violence, including those grieving 9/11 victims and responders.


Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.