1 Year After Chapel Hill: It is Time for Vanderbilt to Address Islamophobia

WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 12: A picture of slain Muslim students who were shot dead in Chapel Hill, is seen at a m
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 12: A picture of slain Muslim students who were shot dead in Chapel Hill, is seen at a makeshift memorial during a vigil at Dupont Circle in Washington,USA on February 12, 2015. Muslim students Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot dead at their home on Tuesday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Muhammed Bilal Kenasari/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

February 10th, 2015 was a really tough day for me. I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was a Tuesday when I first heard news of the death of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha, three Muslim college students from North Carolina. I would find out that Deah Barakat was a close friend of numerous friends of mine. A friend of mine roomed with his older brother for a wummer. Another learned to dribble a basketball because of the hours he would spend playing basketball with Deah.

For three days, I was unable to do anything. I spent three whole days in confusion, unable to understand why anyone would murder such a person. Deah was just so relatable. He was a dental student at the University of North Carolina, passionate about basketball and service. If someone could kill such a wonderful guy solely because he was Muslim, there had to be an extremely passionate hatred of us.

Then I realized that I said "us." No matter who we were, it showed that Islamophobia is so deeply engrained within our society that no Muslim can escape fabricated caricatures painted of us.

When asked why her brother was murdered, Suzanne Barakat, Deah's sister, said that it was because it has been "open season against Islam, Muslims in Washington [and] Muslims in the general media."

No one just wakes up and wants to kill three Muslim college students. It is something that people are inspired and conditioned to do.

Last Summer, Fox host, Andrea Tantaros, stated, "If you study the history of Islam...They've been doing the same thing. This isn't a surprise. You can't solve it with a dialogue. You can't solve it with a summit. You solve it with a bullet to the head. It's the only thing these people understand. And all we've heard from this president is a case to heap praise on this religion."

The fact that someone listened to her and decided to actually take a bullet to a Muslim's head should be a wake up call to our society of the consequences of such toxic rhetoric.

Deah, Yusor, and Razan were not the only Muslims murdered in hate crimes. Three days after them, a 28-year-old Muslim man named Mustafa Mattan was shot outside his apartment. A few weeks later, Ahmed Al-Jumaili, a Muslim Texan, was shot outside his Dallas home will attempting to take pictures of snow.

Vanderbilt University is no stranger to individuals who make irresponsible statements about Islam. Last year, Carol Swain, a Vanderbilt professor, stated that,"Islam has a problem with the West. Islam will never understand the freedoms that we live and die to preserve. If America is to be safe, it must remove the foxes from the henhouses and institute serious monitoring of Islamic organizations."

To begin, Islam is an idea, not a person. An idea cannot "understand" anything because it is not a conscious being. The statement that "Islam will never understand" is a statement reflecting Swain's lack of the most rudimentary understanding of Islam.

This notion, prevalent among the Vanderbilt community, that Swain's statements are harmless and have no consequences on the lives of Muslims is ludicrous. Middle Tennessee is already one of America's most hostile areas for Muslims.

In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, just 25 miles from Vanderbilt's campus, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro's construction site was set ablaze with a sign declaring the phrase,"Not Welcome."

Two years before that, a mosque in Columbus, Tennessee was torched with molotov cocktails and vandalized with a swastika and the phrase,"White Power."

One of those who opposed the building of the Murfreesboro mosque was a woman named Victoria Jackson. Jackson, a virulent defender of Swain, was the same woman who attempted to grab a microphone and scream "freedom of speech" at a protest organized by Vanderbilt's students in response to Swain's statements. Jackson also cheered at the news of the Murfreesboro Mosque's construction site being burned down at an American Muslim Advisory Council forum.

Bigots like Jackson and Swain, and violent hate crimes are nothing new or only applicable to American Muslims. Black Americans have experienced hate crimes and their churches being burned down for centuries. Intellectual racism, like that of Swain's, is also nothing new. For centuries, Ku Klux Klan sympathizers taught at universities, saturating many academic departments. Although they were not actively calling for the lynching of Black people, they created a hostile environment that manufactured and motivated such hateful acts. They may not even have been explicitly encouraging it, but there is no denying their rhetoric motivated acts of violence.

There were 28 acts of Islamophobia in the month of January alone. That is nearly one incident a day. The Islamic Center of Omaha in Nebraska was vandalized for the fourth time in the last five months.

On today's anniversary of these tragic murders, it is crucial that Vanderbilt act to end its complicity in such rhetoric..

In response to Swain's statement, Vanderbilt's Provost said,"We in no way condone or support the views stated in the [op-ed] and we understand they are deeply offensive to many members of our community, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. We are fully committed to ensuring our campus is safe and welcoming to all."

"Deeply offensive to many members of our community"? Are there members of the Vanderbilt community to which such rhetoric is not offensive? If so, that is a cause of much worry.

But even worse, the statement reflects the University administration's lack of ability to take an active stance against Islamophobia. Everyone will agree that it is not Swain's free speech right for Vanderbilt's administration to dance around calling her words hateful and bigoted. The fact that the University has never explicitly called her statements what they are--racist--exemplifies Vanderbilt's administration's morally bankrupt inability in taking a stance against Islamophobia. What will it take for Vanderbilt's administration to oppose Islamophobia? Does a Muslim student at Vanderbilt have to be murdered?

By employing and condoning Swain, Vanderbilt gives a platform for someone whose words can harm people. If this University is serious about Islamophobia, it is crucial that they condemn Swain's views and fire her. Freedom of speech is neither defined as the right to hold a position at Vanderbilt nor to serve as the intellectual basis of acts of hate.