March 18, 2012
Dear President Yudof,
We are writing to express our concern about your response to the incident that took place at UC Davis on February 27th. We understand that Stand With Us (SWU) organized an event where students from another organization, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), silently protested and another attendee attempted to disrupt the talk and was removed from the room.
The Arab Resource and Organizing Center is a grassroots organization working to empower and organize the Arab community towards justice and self-determination for all people. Established in 2007, AROC members build community power in the Bay Area by participating in leadership development, political education, and campaigns.
Members of Stand With Us in the Bay Area are known to use hate speech and physical violence, including the use of weapons such as pepper spray, against individuals who dissent with their opinions. Despite knowing this threat of violence to be possible, students in SJP chose to silently and respectfully protest. Instead of applauding such bravery, the administration at UC Davis responded in such a way as to discourage dissent.
Your open letter the UC community condemned the protest (March 8, 2012), and highlighted other incidents at UC campuses where students expressed their political dissent, as well as examples of hate violence. Not one of your examples included the experiences of Arab and Muslim students that have faced mounting hate crimes, criminalization and marginalization on these very same campuses.
We are all too familiar with the attacks on Arab and Muslims student groups, most notably the recent case of the Irvine 11. We fear that there has been a precedent set by the UC administration to criminalize students critical of Israel. We feel that your letter is an extension of this and may fuel the targeting of Palestinian activists. While these same students must face the general climate of Islamophobia and anti-Arab rhetoric prevalent in our society today, they must now also struggle to find safe spaces on their college campuses.
Furthermore, we find it troubling that what is or is not considered free speech is left at the discretion of administrations’ understandings of what is or is not hateful. The selective application of condemnations and reprimands are an indication of ongoing targeting of particular student groups. Even more, you state that the University of California is working with the Anti-Defamation League to “improve campus climate.” Given the fear tactics of the ADL and their intimidation of pro-Palestinian students, collaborating with such an organization seems to imply that such unjust targeting of students will only intensify. We demand that other organizations beyond ADL and Museum of Tolerance be included in UC Davis efforts to “improve campus climate”. These organizations are catered towards representing Jewish history and interests, but do not represent the “marvelous diversity” you wish to support. We ask that campus administration do your part ensuring that all views including those of Arabs and Muslims are welcome, their cultures celebrated, and their rights acknowledged.
As members of the Arab community, we are deeply concerned with the implications of your letter. We believe in the right to free speech, assembly, and protest. Your recent statement, as well as the violent use of force by the UC Davis Police against student activists in November 2011, indicates to us that UC Davis and the UC system are trying to stifle student activism and rights to protest. You end your letter with a call for fostering a safe and respectful environment for all students, faculty and staff. We are afraid these words stand contradictory to the spirit of the statements that precede it. After all, Arab and Muslim students are not excluded from the university community.
We stand in support of the work of Students for Justice in Palestine and their efforts to create a safe space for Arab and Muslim students on campus by speaking out, protesting, fostering critical thinking, and raising awareness on campus and in the community.
Lily Haskell, Program Director
On Behalf of Collective Members of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center
CC: Linda Katehi and UC Regents