This piece was published in the September 14th edition of The Cavalier Daily under the unfortunate title “Trick Candles” with a few unapproved edits removing some of my tone. I was titled a fourth year Engineering student which is no longer true as of this school year. I will post a link to the article when the Cavalier Daily website comes back online. update: the CD website is back.
I helped plan a panel discussion with The Diversity Initiatives Committee of Student Council - How Can You Say I’m Not American?: Islamophobia and Patriotism in a Post 9-11 World. The panel will be held in Nau 101 at 6:30pm on Sept 15th. Invite your friends to the Facebook Event.
In a 2002 speech about the Iraq war, then Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld infamously said “There are ‘known unknowns’ and there are ‘unknown unknowns’” – the things we can find out and the things we aren’t even remotely aware exist. Unfortunately I believe minority student populations often fall into the latter category – their needs are overlooked, not out of malice, but sheer lack of thought.
In his recent article “Hoos Included?” Evan Shields, chair of the Minority Rights Coalition, called for “inclusion” – ensuring that all viewpoints are represented when making decisions. In a responding guest viewpoint, Conor Sheehy expressed concern that the idea of ‘inclusion’ would reduce students’ viewpoints solely into stereotyped personal categories. I do not believe this is the case. If we don’t value inclusion, we run the risk of minority voices being lost completely, which is more harmful than potential tokenization.
While no one should be valued solely for, or reduced to the categories they may fit into, it is very important that each group have accurate representation so we don’t end up in situations where groups can be ignored. Surely I am more than a gay/white/middle-class/Jewish/male voice, but I am more than happy to fill in those points of view lest they be overlooked. I would gladly have check-box representation occur – at least multiple points of view are on the radar – rather than I be excluded or not thought of until true inclusion becomes the norm. The more we learn about other cultures that are not our own, the more inclusive we become, the less likely we are to forget about or tokenize others. Diversity certainly means more than boxes to be checked, but still somehow “hordes of superb students” planning the University wide 9-11 events left out the part of our community most severely impacted by 9-11.
The planning of the University wide 9-11 remembrance events has made clear how important inclusion is on the University community level. I first heard about the 9-11 planning early in the morning of August 30th through Student Council letting the Representative Body know that a meeting of many major groups had occurred. Noting who attended that meeting (and who didn’t), I was skeptical (UPC, StudCo, Trustees, TYC, SYC, ROTC, IFC, ISC, NPHC, MGC, and Jefferson Society). I looked over the proposed schedule of ribbons, flags, vigil, speeches, and barbeque and thought I was reading events for July 4th. I checked again, and nope, there was no mention of a community forum, academic panel discussion or mention of the Muslim student’s perspective. It appeared pretty obvious to me that minority student organizations were not originally consulted in the planning for these 9-11 events.
On the 10th anniversary of 9-11, inclusion of those from Middle Eastern backgrounds should have been at the top of everyone’s mind in order to heal some of the harms done in the past decade. Given the amount of news reporting on violence and racial profiling of anyone who looks Middle Eastern (brown skin? turban? suspicious.), rise of Islamophobia, ludicrous controversy over the “Ground Zero” mosque and Koran burning, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (prompted largely by 9-11), and Osama death parties, you would think that student leaders would be aware of these salient issues affecting the Muslim and Arab communities. Apparently not.
I am very glad that the interfaith dialogue hosted by Sustained Dialogue on September 12th provided meaningful discussion for many students to breakdown stereotypes about those perceived to be of Middle Eastern backgrounds. It was a great success despite the fact that the Middle Eastern leadership was only given a week to plan the event. It was not until the Sunday before 9-11 that the Muslim Student Association or the Middle Eastern Leadership Council were contacted to work on an event. For a community so deeply affected by 9-11, it’s shameful that their input was a very late afterthought.
I can only hope that in future endeavors we can cast a little light on the “unknown unknowns” and ensure that all are heard. Had our larger organizations been more inclusive taking Mr. Shields’ advice by “simply asking, ‘What voices are not being represented, or accounted for here?’” we might not be in such a position.
Seth Kaye is a 4th year Computer Science student.