The University’s Sept. 11 vigil should have done a better job including student groups representing a Middle Eastern perspective
IN A 2002 speech about the Iraq War, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld infamously said, "There are 'known unknowns'... but there are also 'unknown unknowns'" - the things we can find out and the things we are not 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 from sheer lack of thought.
Evan Shields, chair of the Minority Rights Coalition, called for "inclusion" - ensuring that all viewpoints are represented when making decisions - in his recent article "Hoos Included?" In a responding guest column, Conor Sheehey 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 do not 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 do not 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 the "hordes of superb students" planning the University-wide Sept. 11 events left out the part of our community most severely impacted by Sept. 11.
The planning of the University-wide Sept. 11 remembrance events has made clear how important inclusion is on the University community level. I first heard about the Sept. 11 planning early in the morning of Aug. 30 when Student Council let the representative body know that a meeting of many major groups had occurred. Noting who attended that meeting, I was skeptical - University Programs Council, Student Council, Trustees, Third Year Council, Second Year Council, Reserve Officers' Training Corps, Inter Fraternity Council, Inter Sorority Council, National Pan Hellenic Council, Multicultural Greek Council and the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society. I looked through the proposed schedule of ribbons, flags, vigil, speeches and barbeque and thought I was reading events for July 4. I checked again and still there was no mention of a community forum, academic panel discussion or discussion of the Muslim students' perspective. It appeared pretty obvious to me that minority student organizations were not consulted originally in the planning for these Sept. 11 events.
On the 10th anniversary of Sept. 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, rise of Islamophobia, ludicrous controversy about the "Ground Zero" mosque and Koran burning, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan 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 Sept. 12 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 given only a week to plan the event. It was not until the Sunday before Sept. 11 that the Muslim Student Association or the Middle Eastern Leadership Council was contacted to work on an event. For a community so deeply affected by Sept. 11, it is shameful that their input was a very late afterthought.
I only can 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 Shields' advice by "simply asking, 'What voices are not being represented, or accounted for here?'" we might not be in such a position.\n
Seth Kaye is a fourth-year Engineering student.