The Muslim Students Association is looking to spread awareness and garner support for Penn’s Muslim community.
After a public demonstration on College Green last Friday in response to the New York Police Department’s undercover surveillance, the MSA is now planning a “Know Your Rights” event to educate students on their rights when dealing with law enforcement.
They are seeking help from the Philadelphia branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Amara Chaudhry, Civil Rights Director and Staff Attorney of the organization, said, “Truthfully, I think that this likely feels like a personal violation of student rights, and there may be some Equal Protection issues in that it appears that the officials are targeting a specific population based on minority status.” However, she said the police were otherwise staying “within the confines of the law.”
The MSA also wants to reevaluate their organizational structure to better prepare for a situation like this in the future. For instance, it hopes to employ a full-time chaplain. The current Muslim chaplain, Marc Manley, only works five hours a week, whereas peer schools such as Yale University employ a full-time chaplain.
“It has become a priority for MSAs at those schools to build an institution that can … improve Muslim life on campus, but in an extreme case can also advocate for Muslim life on campus,” Manley said.
In addition, Manley said, unlike peer schools, Penn Muslims do not have a designated building on campus for prayer. A significant problem with Penn’s MSA was a lack of alumni support and organization, he added.
“At those schools, having staff responsible for the Muslim community helped the schools to smooth the process this past week,” College junior and MSA president Mak Hussain said.
He believed communication with the administration would have been easier with a more full-time staff.
After The Associated Press released the report on the NYPD, Penn released a statement and President Amy Gutmann also addressed the issue at the University Council meeting last Wednesday.
“I hope that the two statements together conveyed the commitment to both MSA and all of our student groups,” Vice President of University Communications Steven MacCarthy wrote in an email.
However, the MSA was disappointed the University’s response.
MacCarthy explained that if the University were to do it again, he “probably would have reversed the order” of the statements.
MacCarthy added that Vice President and Chief of Staff for the Office of the President Greg Rost called New York Mayor Bloomberg’s chief of staff to “convey the University’s concerns.”
Hussain thought the response could have negative ramifications for the University.
“[The response] made Penn look pretty unattractive to prospective Muslim students,” Hussain said. He added that the MSA wanted the University to reassure them of its commitment.
On Friday, about 20 students participated in the demonstration “NYPD Files: A Stand Against Profiling.” Participants held manila folders representing their NYPD files and took turns presenting personal facts about themselves. They ended with statements such as, “And I’m a Muslim and that’s all the NYPD cares about.”
“I think [the demonstration] went well, especially with the support from beyond the community,” Hussain said.
Over 80 people signed the attendance sheet of the demonstration in support of the cause, and the list will be posted on the MSA website. However, Hussain explained that the demonstration’s success shouldn’t only be measured in the number of people who participated.
“You really want to make people think,” he said. “Hopefully the people walking by took something from it.”
University Chaplain Chaz Howard was one of the participants of the demonstration.
“I was really moved by some of the non-MSA students who were there and their response,” he said. “It was really inspiring for different members of the community to say they stood with the MSA.”
Several student groups, including Hillel and Programs in Religion, Interfaith and Spirituality Matters have already pledged solidarity with the MSA. On Sunday night, the Undergraduate Assembly passed a resolution to support the MSA.
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