A controversial statement made by presidential candidate Donald Trump in early December sparked a conversation here at Manhattan College and nationwide, which ultimately led to the circulation of a petition condemning Islamophobia and Arabophobia among the College community.
The petition, entitled “Statement on an Inclusive Community,” was sent via email through MC Announcements in the dying days of finals week on December 17 and 18.
Meghan Dinegar, a senior English major and RA in Lee Hall, is one of nearly three hundred Jaspers to have signed the petition as of January 27.
“The inclusive community statement basically encompasses what being an RA is all about,” Dinegar said. “Creating and fostering an inclusive community is one of the most important parts of being an RA.”
Eoin O’Connell, Ph.D., an associate professor in the philosophy department and co-director of the Center for Ethics was one of the leaders of the initiative.
“[Trump] made that inflammatory comment in December and that was very much the impetus here,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell also argued that there is a growing Islamophobic sentiment in the United States which extends far beyond the Republican presidential frontrunner.
“It’s not just Trump. This is an appealing thing to a certain segment of the population and that’s troubling,” O’Connell said.
“There are groups which are actively promoting Islamophobic and Arabophobic ideas. There’s a lot of people that are I think tempted to adopt these views and that I think is just a dangerous and bad thing. It’s divisive and it’s discriminatory. It’s bigotry.”
Appalled by the popularity of these ideas, O’Connell and a few of his colleagues felt the need to act.
O’Connell worked closely with Sarah Scott, Ph.D., an associate professor in the philosophy department, and Brother Jack Curran, FSC, Ph.D., Vice President for Mission, in the drafting of the statement.
“The first idea was to try to make a statement,” O’Connell said.
However, the project quickly took a different route, and the group opted instead for a petition.
“It was from the actual people,” O’Connell said. “And that’s why it took the form of a petition… It seems like a democratic thing.”
The movement is very much a grassroots one – started by members of the College community and intended for the College community, without the help of many of the higher-ups in the administration.
“I feel like things have to come from below, not always come from the top down,” O’Connell said.
Despite their limited involvement, College President Brennan O’Donnell, Ph.D.,and Provost William Clyde, Ph.D., have both signed on to the petition.
After the drafting and distribution of the statement, the conversation quickly shifted to what steps can be taken next.
In an open meeting in the Charter Room Wednesday, O’Connell, Scott, and Curran were joined by other organizers of the petition, including associate professor of government Margaret Groarke, Ph.D., Human Resources Director Vicki M. Cowan, associate professor of history Adam Arenson, Ph.D., and communications director Peter McHugh.
Several ideas were tossed around at the meeting, including a possible town hall meeting on the subject scheduled for February as well as increasing the involvement of the Multicultural Center.
One of the main goals of the meeting was to develop strategies to increase awareness of the petition in the community. Sent during finals week, the timing was such that many students on campus are not aware of the petition or what it stands for.
Some present at the meeting pushed for the statement to be placed on the front page of the College’s website.
However, McHugh resisted, charging, “Our thought was that, say on the front page of the website, it just wouldn’t totally fit.”
McHugh argued the petition was something more for the community of Manhattan College, and not necessarily meant to be outward-facing.
McHugh later added, “I think we need to showcase more inclusivity on the website, even aside from this.”
One of the major developments of the meeting was the organization of a panel event similar to the Racial Justice Teach-In last fall.
“[It is] a sort of panel of people saying what it’s like being me at Manhattan College.” Groarke said. “I think having the conversation might help us identify some things that we would want to work on.”
Unlike the statement, the meeting centered mostly on inclusion of all minorities – not just Muslims and Arabs. Scott argued for a large event focused on general minority inclusion which would precede a later event primarily focused on Muslim and Arab inclusion in the community.
“I like the idea of starting very broadly, so that we pull people into the conversation that might not normally be a part of the conversation,” Scott said.
The event would be held in the same vein as other recent racial-justice themed lectures and events held at the College.
For Curran, the Multicultural Center provides an excellent backdrop for the merge of these events with the Statement.
“I see a lot of connections there, and the Multicultural Center might be a place to gather it all there,” Curran said. “An inclusive community is part of the mission.”
No matter what, the group appears determined to make something happen – intending to enrich the Manhattan College community in the process.
“I always thought this should be something from the community,” O’Connell said.