Drexel Muslim Students Association held a closed door town hall with senior university leadership on Jan. 25 to share the experiences of Palestinian and Muslim students on campus since the humanitarian crisis in Palestine began. The town hall took place from 5-7 p.m. in Stratton 113, with a Zoom option for those who could not attend in person.
Drexel’s senior university leadership consisted of five panelists that sat at the front of the lecture hall. There were around 30 students in attendance.
“We are here for peace. We are here to understand,” stated Noor Jemy, DMSA’s faculty advisor.
The panel consisted of Vice President of Public Safety Mel Singleton, Vice Provost for Diversity, Equality & Inclusion Leslie Ashburn—Nardo, Associate Vice President of Student Health & Wellness Dr. Annette Molyneux, Executive Director of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Shardé Johnson and Associate Vice President and Dean of Student Life Dr. Katie Zamulinsky. Drexel’s Senior Vice President Subir Sahu was also in attendance. Each of the panelists explained how their department’s services were there to support every student at Drexel.
Many students recounted their experiences of feeling unsafe on Drexel’s campus in regards to the university’s lack of support for Palestinian and Muslim students. They expressed how their mental health has been negatively affected. Participants described how they live in fear and how some of them are afraid to show their religious association or heritage in public due to the risk of being targeted. Students also reported that they received calls from their parents and loved ones cautioning them not to attend events in support of Palestine, as they feared they would be harmed.
“I’ll speak up no matter what. I’ll keep on putting on my hijab everyday,” stated a freshman biomedical engineering major.
Other students expressed how they still choose to wear their keffiyeh as a symbol of their Palestinian pride.
In reference to wearing a keffiyeh, a former Drexel student stated, “Don’t ever let that courage go away.”
Students also spoke about their disappointment in the responses of Drexel professors and common sentiments about inappropriate comments that dismiss feelings of distress.
The social chair of DMSA and third year biology major at Drexel stated that one of her professors told her, “I don’t believe that this is a genocide,” after asking what the DMSA town hall was about.
A freshman biomedical engineering student added that one of her professors told her that she was, “Too ambitious to be whatever you want to be for who you are,” in reference to the fact that she is Muslim.
Multiple students brought up emails from Drexel President John Fry that they felt were misrepresentative and biased towards Muslims and Palestinians. The treasurer of DMSA compared emails sent regarding the events of Oct. 7 to those regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine, stating that there was a lack of resources provided to students and a lack of acknowledgement of the deaths in Palestine.
Students also expressed dismay with how Drexel Police handled security for the Palestine Teach-In hosted by Drexel Palestine Coalition in Gerri C. Lebow Hall on Jan. 25 from 12 p.m. onward. A sophomore middle education student asked Chief of Police Singleton, why public safety, Drexel Police and the Philadelphia Police surrounded the building both before and during the teach-in.
Students stated that the high police presence made it feel like “public safety was protecting the university from them [teach-in participants].”
In his response, Singleton indicated that Drexel Police were not provided with information regarding how many people would attend the teach-in.
He stated that Drexel Police’s main priority was to “protect everyone.”
Throughout the meeting, Singleton repeatedly stressed his request for students to communicate more with campus police in order to build trust and familiarity with their presence.
Drexel Palestine Coalition released a statement regarding the police presence at the teach-in on Jan. 27 identifying the police presence as “an act of police intimidation.”
The statement continued, “We condemn the police response as a disproportionate action which inherently criminalizes Palestinian identity and Palestinian liberation. We will not permit the criminalization of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim identities on or off our campus.”
The town hall wrapped around 7:25 p.m. with DMSA stating that they planned to extend the availability of the panelists for more questions in the future. Sahu and the panelists confirmed that conversations about the safety of Muslim and Palestinian students have been happening within Drexel admin and will increase following the meeting to address the student feedback given. A link was given for attendees to provide additional feedback.
For more information on DMSA, visit their page on DragonLink.