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Woodruff addresses criticism of university response to Israel-Hamas war at ASMSU meeting

November 5, 2023
MSU Interim President Teresa K. Woodruff during an interview with The State News in her office at the Hannah Administration Building on Sept. 28, 2023.
MSU Interim President Teresa K. Woodruff during an interview with The State News in her office at the Hannah Administration Building on Sept. 28, 2023.

Two weeks after the Associated Students of MSU passed a bill supporting Palestinian students and advocating for more support from the university, Interim President Teresa Woodruff spoke to ASMSU’s general assembly about the ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by the Israel-Hamas war and its effects on the MSU community. 

"The loss of life around the world is deeply disturbing, (with) the impact on Palestinians, on Jews, on Arabs, on Israelis and on Muslims," Woodruff said at the Nov. 2 meeting. "We cannot … resolve the crisis of Gaza and the Middle East in this room. But I do believe we can and we must collaborate on support, on resources, education, dialogue and ultimately, the safety of our community."

Woodruff said she has met with students across different MSU communities to better understand how administration and faculty can offer support. Her upcoming meetings include discussions with the Muslim Students Association, Jewish Student Union, Spartans for Israel, Arab Cultural Society, Students United for Palestinian Rights, Black Student Association and others.

While Woodruff said all students can benefit from campus resources — such as counseling and psychiatric services and Student Health and Wellness — she emphasized how the administration collaborating with ASMSU directly often leads to real change in the university. 

"I come to you as your President, and I come humbly," she said. "I come to hear. I come to learn. I come to help us move together here."

During her speech, some attending students held signs that honored former MSU Humphrey Fellow Tariq Thabet, who was killed in the Gaza Strip alongside his family by an Israeli bombing. Woodruff shared her condolences for Thabet and his family when starting her speech, but students asked why MSU has not released an official statement about Thabet and his family. 

Woodruff explained that "there are many deaths that occur on campuses everywhere," but said that Thabet is a Spartan.

"I appreciate you mentioning Palestine today, but why was that not addressed in the official statement on Oct. 12?" Muslim Students Association Representative Ahmed Amir asked Woodruff. "Why was Palestine not explicitly mentioned in your statement?"

Arab Cultural Society representative Saba Saed also said that in the statement, MSU "mentioned that you know that we are hurting, that we feel pain. But if there is no official acknowledgement of what we are going through as Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims … that means, where is this hurt coming from?"

Woodruff said she will take these comments into consideration when addressing these matters in the future.

College of Social Science representative Evan Anderson asked if MSU has any plans to protect MSU community members who are affected by this war.

"What I’m getting at is that I’ve heard from a lot of students and professors that they’re afraid to speak out on this issue for fear of being defamed or retributed against," Anderson said. 

Woodruff said that last Thursday, an email was sent out to all faculty listing ways in which the classroom and faculty can engage with students. She said it listed 80 key practices "to make sure people know what their resources are and what the ways in which we can help the classroom setting.”

In order to combat antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry, MSU has held a series of events surrounding these topics in the last two weeks, Woodruff said. 

"I understand the first meeting had a very large audience," Woodruff said. "The second meeting was held last week. I anticipate those will keep going throughout the semester."

Saed asked if Woodruff had any plans calling for a ceasefire.

"I do not have plans for the university to make a statement on a ceasefire," Woodruff said. “I do not have plans. I represent the university, so my role is as the university president. I appreciate the question, though."

Woodruff left before public comment, where four students spoke and expressed their grievances.

Pre-med senior Zaaki Mandwee said that Woodruff briefly attended a campus vigil for Wadea Al-Fayoume, a six-year-old Palestinian American who was murdered in an Illinois hate crime. Mandwee claimed Woodruff ignored what he said about MSU’s lack of support or statement for Palestinians and that she left before the actual vigil started. 

"This was absolutely disgraceful, shameful and insincere," Mandwee said. "That is why I stand here now, and I’m saying that I am not a Spartan. We do not feel like we have been valued or respected by this university, and we’re demanding immediate changes."

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Young Communists League member Natalie Herman mentioned bill 60-35, which is a vote of no confidence in the Board of Trustees. Herman believes this bill should also hold Woodruff accountable for her actions, "or lack thereof," as Herman said.

"President Woodruff has done nothing to make Palestinian students voices heard or supported their needs in the midst of a genocide," Herman said. "She consistently picks and chooses which causes to support publicly and fails to offer transparency in a time where it is desperately needed."

Herman urged the general assembly to include Woodruff on bill 60-35, but Vice President of Internal Affairs Connor Le said Woodruff's presidency will end soon, diminishing the power of a no-confidence vote against her.

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