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MSU student groups demand university acknowledge Palestinian students, provide resources

November 16, 2023
<p>The Rock on Farm Lane read "Free Palestine" on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, two days after Israel declared war on Hamas.</p>

The Rock on Farm Lane read "Free Palestine" on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, two days after Israel declared war on Hamas.

Photo by Jack Armstrong | The State News

Several MSU student groups released a statement calling on the board and administration to acknowledge safety concerns and publicly apologize to Arab and Muslim students. 

The statement comes just over a month since Oct. 7, when the Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked Israeli towns, kidnapping and killing citizens. Since then, the Israeli Defense Force has attacked the Gaza Strip, displacing and killing citizens. 

According to the statement, since Oct. 7, students have faced "an onslaught of hate from students, faculty, staff, admin, alumni and families, all of which this institution has worsened." The statement adds that until MSU provides support for its students, they "will continue to feel unsafe, uncomfortable, and as if (they) do not belong." 

"Michigan State University has clearly shown there is selective support for students, picking and choosing which communities matter most here," the statement said. "As students, we stand up for ourselves and for every other Spartan that has been ignored. We are here to say that we matter. We call on this university to hear us, see us, and support us." 

The student groups who contributed to the Nov. 9 statement include the Arab Cultural Society, Students United for Palestinian Rights, Spartan Shifa, Muslim Students Association, Sunrise Spartans and more

The statement also provides detailed demands that the university provide academic accommodations and mental health resources for affected students and protect students' right to free speech and privacy.

Additionally, it calls for MSU to release a new statement in collaboration with Muslim and Arab groups "that acknowledges the ongoing genocide," and "expresses support to a ceasefire so all violence can end." 

Other demands include establishing an ad-hoc Arab studies group consisting of student and faculty voices and collaborating with Arab and Muslim student groups to provide funding for educational resources on campus. 

These demands echo previous calls from students, including the Associated Students of MSU bill that called for the university "to address the ongoing Palestinian crisis and support Palestinian students and all impacted students." 

Students met with Interim President Teresa Woodruff on Nov. 6 to present and discuss their demands with administrators. According to the statement posted on social media, the administration failed to respond to the students. 

"It was made clear that collaboration and trust could not be effectively fostered between the university and students without first taking accountability for the university's direct contribution to hate on campus," the statement said. 

Arab Cultural Society Vice President Saba Saed, a neuroscience and pre-med senior, said it was disappointing to see what she said was a lack of action from Woodruff during the meeting. Saed said she wanted the administration to collaborate with Palestinian student groups to create solutions

Saed said that before releasing the statement, she made it clear to Woodruff that the group is willing to collaborate with the administration if they can prove they care about their students

“I mean an apology isn’t something crazy, you know,” Saed said. “It’s not asking for a political stance. It’s asking them to simply acknowledge us, and she denied us that acknowledgement.” 

The day following the statement's release, Woodruff sent a statement addressing concerns regarding the campus climate.

"Recently, we have heard rising student voices telling us we must do better," Woodruff wrote in the Nov. 10 email. "This moment calls on us to demonstrate that we are a community of care and compassion. Our campus, after all, is many students' front and back porch, and it should always feel like a safe and welcoming home."

The email linked to a webpage that addresses the university's support for its community. The page is labeled "Supporting Our Israeli, Jewish, Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and All Impacted Communities," and it outlines MSU's efforts to support marginalized groups, including the Conversations on Antisemitism and Islamophobia workshop

Woodruff's statement did not address the additional concerns outlined in the student groups' joint statement. 

This was the university's second official statement on the issue, with MSU's initial statement coming on Oct. 12. 

The student groups' joint statement also took issue with MSU's initial statement

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According to the students' statement, MSU needs to apologize for "failing to address the ongoing Palestinian struggles and over 10,000 Palestinians murdered, and coupling Palestinian identities with Hamas, therefore implying that the innocent men, women, and children murdered are killed in association with Hamas and likening Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims with terrorists."

Saed said she has felt disrespected by Woodruff on numerous occasions. One example that Saed provided was during a memorial that the Arab Cultural Society and Students United for Palestinian Rights held for Wadea Al-Fayoume, a six-year-old Palestinian boy who was murdered in an apparent hate crime in Illinois. His landlord has pled not guilty to charges of murder and attempted murder of Al-Fayoume's mother. 

“Woodruff left five minutes early during the prayer,” Saed said. "What are we exactly grieving if you’re not acknowledging these issues?”  

Saed said Woodruff did acknowledge former MSU former Humphrey Fellow Tariq Thabet, who was killed in Gaza by an Israeli bombing, by giving thoughts and prayers during his vigil and mentioning that there will be a tree planted in his honor. But Saed said Woodruff needs to acknowledge it more in-depth. 

“There hasn’t been a statement addressing his death,” Saed said. “Just apologize for not addressing this and for the increase of harm in our community.” 

The statement calls on MSU to publicly apologize for the "disrespect shown towards Wadea Al-Fayoume's memory and Muslim religious practices, failing to publicly acknowledge and honor the life of Tariq Thabet."

To honor the lives of Al-Fayoume and Thabet, the statement demands that MSU donate to their families and "commemorate Tariq's life in a material, tangible way." 

Regarding Palestinian students’ safety, Saed said that her community has been receiving hate speech online since Oct. 7.

Saed said MSU should address the discrimination and hate speech the MSU Palestinian community has been experiencing and the lack of equity on campus with providing safety for students. Providing resources to educate students and faculty about Israel and Palestine’s historical background will help, Saed said.

“There’s a lot of uneducated people who are wondering what’s happening, and they’re either going to blame us or blame the Jewish community for what’s happening, and obviously that’s something we don’t condone," Saed said. "This is not to raise antisemitism — it’s actually the opposite — to simply learning about the history.” 

Another issue Saed has is that Woodruff and the administration don't know the difference between ethnicity and religion, she said. 

“They failed to put Middle Eastern students on the DEI website,” Saed said. “It infuriated me because after we met, I notified them that there weren't any Middle Eastern students on here and they responded, ‘We have Muslim students, there’s diversity within Muslim students’ I responded, ‘Exactly because it’s a religion, not an ethnic group.’”

Saed said she hopes that the leaders of the university will stop making excuses moving forward.

“I think admin's best interest is to take accountability and set up an actual plan to do something about the ongoing issues,” Saed said. “It’s for the greater good to be educated on this because it personally hurts my feelings that people aren’t willing to listen to me … Everyone should look in within themselves, look in within your humanity and reflect on this issue as a human and values, not what you see in the media but as a human right now.”

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