Student activists, leaders size up state of campus activism in the Trump era
LULAC, Muslim Student Association have been driven to act in recent months
Just 15 months after President Donald Trump was inaugurated, AU has seen a dramatic increase in activism, according to student leaders interviewed by The Eagle about the state of activism on campus. However, other students say the level of political polarization on campus has eclipsed those activism efforts.
On Jan. 19, members of AU’s League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) marched from AU’s campus to Tenleytown where they rode the Metro to Union Station and continued marching until they filled the Senate office buildings.
The protest lasted an hour and they were protesting Trump’s refusal to sign the DREAM Act," according to Estefany Tito of LULAC. The group also organized demonstrations in the fall to call for a "clean DREAM Act" and to protest Trump's decision to recall the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
LULAC members said Trump’s rhetoric and actions are to blame for students becoming active on campus and why AU overall has become so politically polarized.
“The Trump administration, through its constantly divisive and insulting rhetoric, has definitely let certain individuals feel confident enough to voice their ignorant and offensive beliefs on campus,” said Gilda Goldental-Stoecker, an executive board member of LULAC.
Tito said the current administration, through their rhetoric, has allowed for explicit cases of bigotry, but believe racism and intolerance are issues that have been around for a long time. Despite that, LULAC and other multicultural organizations on campus are working hard to make sure all students feel comfortable and safe at AU.
“It is important to recognize the importance of working together proactively to keep any other racist or intolerant events from happening on campus, and not in response to an event,” Tito said.
The Muslim Student Association (MSA) marched to the White House on Jan. 27 in memory of the first anniversary of Trump’s travel ban, and held a panel event in March discussing the travel ban. This executive order ended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, and denied entry to immigrants from Middle Eastern countries Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
MSA president and senior Abirfatima Munshi spoke to The Eagle about her past year under the Trump presidency.
“Since coming to campus in 2015, Trump’s presence has been felt,” Munshi said. “People initially took sides because it was election time but it's different now. The random attacks have had a profound effect on campus. We are told that the attacks aren't from within but the effects are still there and his presence is still there.”
The hurtful rhetoric regarding Muslims in America during the 2016 election became crucial for MSA’s activism, Munshi said.
“The 2016 rhetoric energized the Muslim community because it made a lot of us want to do something because many of us were not willing to sit back and take the hate,” Munshi said. “The rhetoric was very demonizing to say the least. The role of MSA on hand is to provide a community but it is also there to show people that we are here and that we have a presence on campus and that we are normal.”
Munshi said that there are both pros and cons since Trump came to power in terms of campus activism.
“More and more people have gotten their voice and are doing things to be heard and seen,” Munshi said. “It is sad, but it empowered people nonetheless.”
Yasaman Moinzadeh-Hakami, a freshman and former Student Government (SG) senator, agrees that the sudden polarization and the dramatic increase in activism is directly due to President Trump coming into office.
“As a first generation Iranian-American, as a woman of color, as a millennial and as a human being who actually cares, Trump has angered me more than I can express,” Moinzadeh-Hakami said. “However, I believe that Trump has fueled a flame that has always existed in America. Racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, etc. These are concepts that the affluent white majority in the States have only utilized to their benefit since the founding of this country.”
As an SG senator, she said she advocated for all students on AU’s campus. She advocated for more Halal food options on campus and programming for first generation students, she said. During the fall senate elections, Moinzadeh-Hakami said she fell victim to what she is fighting against, The Eagle previously reported.
“I've dealt with harassment since the moment I stepped on campus,” Moinzadeh-Hakami said. “From having stalkers to election harassment to people threatening to assault me, I have almost wanted to transfer multiple times.”
But despite the harassment and the nasty rhetoric, she strongly believes she is where she needs to be, she said.
Freshman and SG senator Mulan Burgess said clubs are not doing enough to collaborate on their activism.
“We are witnessing an increase in club meetings - however, they are all closed door meetings,” Burgess said. “We are seeing conversations within clubs but no one is taking the steps to move forward.”
Since his time in office, Burgess has seen an increase in activism, but not only on campus. He sees clubs promoting on social media to meet in Tenleytown and then go into the city together, and also sees more people having dialogues in classrooms and with their professors.
Burgess thinks that the key to getting rid of the nasty rhetoric, stigma and hatred is to have more open dialogue.
Senior Umanda Weerasinghe said Trump is definitely to blame for political polarization in the U.S. but not necessarily for activism.
Weerasinghe herself was also a victim of the sudden polarization in the days following the 2016 election, she said. She was walking to class carrying the Quran, which was required reading material for her religions class, and someone assumed she was Muslim. The person came up to her and screamed in her face called her a “Muslim bitch” and told her to “go back to her country.”
“The way I see it is that it’s like people believe that because we have Trump as president, it is somehow OK to be racist and arrogant towards people of different ethnicities,” Weerasinghe said. “I mean, even after that incident [the nooses], students no longer want to identify with their culture or religion over fears of being judged or beaten up.”