Friday, March 1, 2024

'I'm tired': ASMSU vice president of academic affairs resigns due to marginalization, isolation

February 7, 2024
Arts and Humanities senior Alissa Hakim poses for a portrait in Room 115 of the International Center on Feb. 1, 2024 before she attends her final ASMSU meeting as a member. Hakim recently announced her resignation from her role as Vice President of Academic Affairs for ASMSU.
Arts and Humanities senior Alissa Hakim poses for a portrait in Room 115 of the International Center on Feb. 1, 2024 before she attends her final ASMSU meeting as a member. Hakim recently announced her resignation from her role as Vice President of Academic Affairs for ASMSU. —
Photo by Brianna Schmidt | The State News

When Alissa Hakim started her career at the Associated Students of MSU three years ago, she hoped to bring along more Arab and Muslim representation to the organization. But since joining, Hakim has felt isolated and marginalized. 

On Jan. 25, Hakim resigned from the vice president of academic affairs position, emailing a letter of resignation to the general assembly. The three-page resignation letter focused on how she felt targeted as an Arab and Muslim woman and her frustrations with ASMSU and MSU itself. 

"This is not a welcoming place of work and has not been for the three years I've been involved," Hakim wrote in the letter. "I am so appreciative of all the opportunities I've been granted and for all the relationships I’ve built, but it's not enough. I'm tired. I'm drained. This isn't one of those jobs where you pour from your cup and others pour back. It's a job where you have to work for everyone, even people that look at you as a monster."

These feelings started two years ago when MSU students asked her why so many ASMSU representatives were traveling to Israel. Hakim said it made these students feel unrepresented by ASMSU. 

Hakim brought the students' concerns to the general assembly. She was told these were personal travels, which she relayed to her constituents. 

"Ever since then, people have kind of weaponized that against me to call me antisemitic," Hakim said in an interview with The State News. "Within the following year, I just felt very, very isolated from the other representatives because I knew they were talking about me. I tried to bring that concern to HR but was blatantly ignored, which was also very isolating."

Hakim said she and other members of the Office of the President faced intimidation from the Jewish Student Union, or JSU, leadership. 

JSU did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication. 

Hakim said the marginalization worsened after Hamas' Oct. 7, 2023 attack on Israel. She said people began monitoring her social media accounts, claiming one person began screenshotting her profiles and posts to "build a case" against her. 

Public comments during ASMSU meetings also became a problem, Hakim said. She said students would often come in to make "horrific" public comments towards her that "demonized" her community.

"It all felt so racist and Islamophobic and xenophobic, and no one did anything about it," Hakim said. "ASMSU just watched it happen. There's some real blatant profiling, prejudice and bias that goes on that no one really considers or holds people accountable for. It just got to a point where I was very sick of it, and I just couldn't deal with it anymore."

MSU has also disappointed Hakim, especially in its response to the Israel-Hamas war. 

Hakim and other ASMSU members are constantly fed "boldface lies" by MSU, Hakim said. She said MSU has given remarks of neutrality over the conflict in the Middle East, yet Hakim said she doesn't see neutrality, citing MSU's investments in Israeli aid. 

Hakim said she feels "helplessness and hopelessness" when talking to the university — the same university that she said "benefits from the murder and displacement of Arab peoples."

Hakim, alongside student groups, has been calling on MSU to divest from Israeli aid.

At last Friday's Board of Trustees meeting, Hakim attempted to speak on behalf of another student who was unable to attend. But she was stopped by board secretary Stefan Fletcher, who said she could not speak on someone else's behalf, according to board policy. Fletcher then called security to remove her, but board chair Rema Vassar stopped the police, allowing her to talk as audience members chanted for Hakim to speak. 

"You must take student demands into serious consideration and act," Hakim told the board once she was allowed to informally speak. "Your Arab and Muslim students cannot be continuously failed and rejected."

MSU did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.

240202-BMM-BoTMeeting0275.jpg
Alissa Hakim, a senior, is confronted by police when attempting to speak on behalf of a peer during a MSU Board of Trustee's meeting in East Lansing, Mich., Feb. 2, 2024. The Board of Trustees fielded comments from the public, including the divestment of the university's assets from Israel.

In addition to hurdles set by the university, Hakim has been processing her own emotions regarding the ongoing attacks on the Gaza Strip. 

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"There'll be days where I'm crying in the office hoping that no one's going to hear me because no one gets it," Hakim said. "No one understands it. No one's reached out to me to check up on me unless I'm explicitly saying, 'Hey, my neighborhoods are getting bombed right now.' So it's really just a lack of compassion and a lack of consideration."

Hakim said this "traumatic and intense experience" is isolating. She called on MSU and the Office of Institutional Equity to create better support systems for students dealing with the same experience. 

Hakim's letter also rebutted alleged claims that she was biased when enacting bills. In her eyes, she had a "due diligence" to advocate for her people and do what's best for herself and the marginalized people on campus. 

She wrote that her "existence is not a point of 'bias,'" or an "abuse of power." Hakim wrote that she was elected to be part of the ASMSU community in her wholeness. This, she wrote, included identities that others look down on her for. 

"I was a part of the ASMSU community, and no one gets to pick and choose which parts of me they want to accept and which parts of me they don't want to accept," Hakim said. "If I'm going to be a part of a community, I'm going to be there in my entirety, and part of that entirety is my family's history. Part of that entirety is the happy face of the bad things that we've endured because that's what's given me my resilience in my passion for doing advocacy for speaking out for time for others."

Hakim said after writing the letter, emotions were "bittersweet." An outpour of affirmative support has made the process easier to go through, she said.  

Hakim hopes ASMSU representatives take her words into consideration and that this letter challenges their perceptions. In the future for ASMSU, she hopes diversity, equity and inclusion will be activated more during meetings and considered more overall. 

Hakim addressed her recent letter of resignation at the weekly ASMSU meeting on Thursday. Hakim said the letter was not an attack on any person or group, but rather an attempt to stand up for herself and ensure other student leaders are held accountable. 

However, she said the issues Arab and Muslim students face are not new and have only grown exponentially since Oct. 7, 2023. 

"There is little to no accountability largely due to the failure to bring concerns forth," Hakim said. "So many people have experienced things similar to me in terms of intimidation and remain silent out of fear they'd be further retaliated against."

Multiple representatives made reports in which they spoke to Hakim's resignation.

"I really do hope that this is a wake up call for all of us here just to address things that need to be addressed," Residential College of Arts and Humanities Representative Abigail Rodriguez said. 

Additionally, members of the Office of the President addressed and expressed support for Hakim in their reports.

Vice President for Internal Administration Connor Le said ASMSU's failure to welcome everyone, especially considering MSU is a predominantly white institution, has detrimentally affected several marginalized communities and that the issue must be addressed and fixed immediately.

President Emily Hoyumpa also thanked Hakim for the work she's done.

"You're a lot braver than a lot of us," she said.

Hoyumpa did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication. 

At the end of the meeting, Hakim expressed disapproval of some of the reports made by representatives, saying that it's frustrating to continue to smile and laugh after hearing people who haven’t spoken to her directly speak about her situation publicly. 

Hakim did not clarify which reports specifically she was referring to.

Hakim's last day at ASMSU will be Feb. 9.

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