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U. Minnesota student government votes against annual 9/11 ceremony; some didn’t want to spread Islamophobia

The campus of the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn. (iStock)
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A resolution to honor the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks each year at the University of Minnesota was rejected by the student government there, with some students expressing concern that such a measure could foster “Islamaphobia.”

The resolution noted that the attack still has a lasting effect on many on campus, and “the events of that date are of immeasurable importance to the world we live in today,” and that the university has no formal memorial for that date on campus. It called for a moment of recognition on the morning of Sept. 11, 2016, and every year to come.

It failed.

Twenty-three of the students representing undergraduates voted for it, three abstained, and 36 voted against it.

Some of the opposition was logistical, according to a statement from the student government.

But according to the Minnesota Republic, the student newspaper which broke the story, there was strong opposition voiced during the debate before the vote last week by David Algadi, the at-large representative to the Minnesota Students Association and its director of diversity and inclusion. He emphasized that 9/11 was a national tragedy, but warned,

“The passing of this resolution might make a space that is unsafe for students on campus even more unsafe,” said Algadi, “Islamophobia and racism fueled through that are alive and well.”
Algadi added that holding a moment of recognition over a tragedy committed by non-white perpetrators could increase racist attitudes on campus, asking, “When will we start having moments of silence for all of the times white folks have done something terrible?”

Algadi and several other members of the student government did not immediately return messages Monday seeking comment.

The Minnesota College Republicans strongly condemned the vote.

“It’s appalling that this resolution was defeated,” said Anders Koskinen, chair of the group, in a statement. “The disrespect that the 36 people who voted against this showed toward the victims of 9/11 and their families is absolutely unacceptable.”

The group will continue to push for the student government and university to honor the anniversary.

Emma Mazour, the communications director for the student government association, said via e-mail that they were “not granting interviews at this time.” She sent a written statement that read, in part,

Much of the coverage of this resolution has revolved around the discussion of the potential perpetuation of Islamophobia. While this was certainly a valid and unanswered concern of the body, much of the discussion in Forum on this resolution also revolved around the logistics of how a moment of recognition could be implemented on a college campus of thousands and the lack of requested research on if and how this is executed on other campuses. There had been suggestions made in committee meetings during the prior week on research and execution steps, but none were included in the version presented to Forum.
There were many Forum members that voiced support for holding a moment of recognition for the victims of 9/11, but given the brevity of the resolution and lack of action steps, they didn’t know how this could be done. The author did not have answers for these questions, and given that a resolution in this body is inherently a call for action, many members were dissatisfied by the lack of action attached to such an important topic.

The student government statement also said the president and speaker “have reached out to the author and would be happy to work with him on crafting a resolution to be re-presented at the next Forum.”

The university supports the efforts of students to begin a lasting recognition of 9/11, the vice provost for student affairs and dean of students at the University of Minnesota, Danita Brown Young, said in a statement. She said the discussion about the resolution was wide-ranging.

“Ultimately, although MSA students generally supported the resolution, they voted against it as presented so logistical issues related to its implementation could be addressed. Following the vote, the students decided to take a step back and ensure that any 9/11 resolution that is passed includes the detail necessary to successfully implement a worthy form of recognition on campus.
“The maturity to want a more comprehensive resolution should be applauded, and we hope that others will take a moment to understand the entire situation before attacking the actions of our students – who, it is important to remember, proactively brought forward the resolution in the first place.”

Theo Menon, a freshman and the College Republicans’ representative in the Minnesota Student Association, who introduced the measure, said he didn’t think concerns about how to implement the observance were the reason his idea was voted down. “I do believe there were people there with logistical concerns,” he said, “but they did not make themselves well heard if that was the case.

The much more vocal, and supported, opposition was the argument that it could spread fear of Islam, he said. They’re not allowed to applaud but they can snap to indicate agreement, he said. “Mr. Algadi’s [question], ‘Why aren’t we recognizing the millions of people who died in the war on terror?’ got a lot of snapping and general indications of support from people in forum.”

People “reiterated  multiple times that this would lead to an increase in Islamophobia on campus,” he said. He doesn’t agree. He said it’s a campus with a very open set of beliefs. “This wouldn’t lead to Islamophobia. It would lead to a discussion about where we are in 2015 and the effect these events had.”