Around noon on Friday, community members found a creative way to express their solidarity with the Penn Muslim Students Association. At its peak, 20 students stood in a circle clutching manila folders that read “NYPD file.”
Participants took turns to read and share details about themselves from their fictional “file” and ended with statements such as “and I’m a Muslim and that’s all that the NYPD cares about.”
This demonstration was organized in response to The Associated Press’s report which indicated that the NYPD had been regularly monitored Muslim Student Association websites, blogs and forums at universities across the Northeast, including Penn.
The initiative that this diverse group of students took to stand in solidarity with Penn MSA is certainly laudable. The University, on the other hand, could do more.
On Wednesday, Penn issued a statement addressing the NYPD’s surveillance activities. While the statement affirmed Penn’s support for students as members of the Penn community, it also pointed out “the University cannot protect students from the harsh realities of the world we live in.”
While a Penn education does not and should not take place in an ivory tower, it is the University’s responsibility to equip its students with the ability to think beyond the “harsh realities” of our time. Penn should help us envision a more tolerant and secure society where groups are not scrutinized solely on the basis of religious belief.
This issue aside, the Muslim community has faced increased scrutiny since 9/11. Islamophobia has been an unavoidable issue in our society and something that Muslim students may encounter in their day to day interactions.
Penn, therefore, should strive to sustain an atmosphere that welcomes a variety of opinions and protects its student’s beliefs. A college campus should be a place where students feel safe, not scrutinized.
When incidents — such as the NYPD’s surveillance — surface, it is important for the University to show active support. Penn does not have to go as far as to condemn the NYPD’s action since their decision to monitor public domain websites was well within the scope of the law. The University, however, should support students in understanding this issue, rather than simply declare it as a “troubling statement on our times.”
Penn, after all, has always encouraged its students to improve the world around them. It has been a place for young people to equip themselves to become agents of change. History has shown us that movements to progress society have begun, in part, on college campuses. The University’s response, this time around, fails to foster belief in the possibility of a better future.