Guilford students of color protest administrative ‘charges’ against Palestinians

by Jordan Green

A group of students of color and white allies, who are calling themselves Students for Justice, issued a statement on Jan. 25 condemning the Guilford College administration’s decision to ask two Palestinian students to find sleeping accommodations off campus.

The students, Faris Khader and Osama Sabbah, received the same sanction as three football players alleged to have brutally beaten them on Jan. 20. In an administrative process separate from the criminal justice process launched against some of the football players, the administration handed down what are called “Level III Judicial Charges” to all five students as the college investigates the incident.

The statement by Students for Justice reads, in part:

“In consideration of the administration’s own system of core values, we find the charges placed on [Khader and Sabbah] as unacceptable….

“It is true that this institution is founded by Quaker ideals. However, holding the victims to the same cultural ideals is a decision made in complete absence of cultural relativism. Imposing one culture on another is an insensitive bias. In Palestine, as in many cultures, members are taught to defend themselves against violence. It is the basic instinct of survival. Charges suggest, in this case, that students within a hostile environment should lie down and die. The only response is to leave the institution. It seems, in this situation, that in order to obtain the full, unaltered attention of the administration, someone would have to die….

“It is also inherently obvious that the administration’s interest in achieving a diverse population is purely a matter of numbers. Support and sensitivity for students of color from the administrative body is non-existent. The staff that are put in place to support the community of students of color and international students have exhausted all possible resources to go above and beyond their contracts of employment, and have worked many hours in a desperate attempt to be the embodiment of all that Guilford College stands for, including but not limited to community, integrity, diversity, equality, stewardship, excellence and justice….

“As a community that habitually experiences numerous accounts of bigotry and racism on this campus, the message that is being sent to us due to this event, is that there is no guarantee of our safety. These students not only represented their Palestinian community in the face of this disaster, but they also represented every under-represented person on this campus. For the body of students of color, the facts stand:

• “Public Safety took 30 minutes to arrive on the scene, even though officers knew of the ongoing altercation.

• “The police were not called, and the victims had obtained obvious, distinguishable injuries. The responsibility of ensuring that these students received medical attention was left for staff members.

• “The administration has indirectly issued the message that students are expected to accept a beating without defending themselves.

• “Little emphasis has been placed on the fact that racially motivated verbal violence was used as a form of assault on the victims. That fact alone should be enough to warrant additional charges for the offenders.

• “Omar Awartani (a third Palestinian student) [was] a visitor to the Guilford College community. He was violently assaulted both physically and mentally, and the college is yet to issue a public apology for his lack of safety while visiting this campus. This apology should be issued not only to Omar but to North Carolina State University. Omar never attempted to defend himself by physical or violent means.

• “The words used to dehumanize the victims resonate in the minds of the college’s students of color, due to the personal meanings that such terms have in our lives. The altercation in question was not the first time that these words had been used against those students on campus, and many other students have been victims of similar verbal assaults at this college. This clarifies the need for better definitions of verbal assault due to racism, bigotry, and heterosexism in the student handbook….

“We as the Guilford College Students for Justice are ready and willing to be an active part of the changes that need to occur at this institution. We are committed to paving the way for all future students of color, so that they may not only be received as members of this community, but attitudes, judicial guidelines, and actions taken on campus will reflect and appreciate the many contributions that we bring to this community. In this community that claims to stand for equality and diversity, we demand to be treated as equal. We want to help Guilford College truly become the antiracist multicultural institution it has set out to be.”

The college administration has disputed the students’ assertion about the response time of the Public Safety Office. An official statement posted on the college’s website on Jan. 23 includes the following account:

“The Campus Life staff member on duty responded to a call, of a fight in Bryan Hall, from the hall director on duty at 12:39 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 20. At 12:43 a.m. the Campus Life staff member arrived at Bryan Hall. By this time the fight had concluded and public safety officers were already on the scene. Once public safety was contacted, an officer responded within less than five minutes. Reports of a 30-40 minute delay in response to the incident after the call was made are contradicted by logs of both departments.”