Johns Hopkins students urge university leaders to better protect Muslim & Jewish peers

Johns Hopkins students urge university leaders to better protect Muslim & Jewish peers

College students in Baltimore are calling for more security and protection for Muslim and Jewish students.

Since the October 7 start of the latest Israel-Hamas war, incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia are surging nationwide, with the amount of Islamophobic cases in Maryland nearly tripling.

This trend holds true at Johns Hopkins University, students say.

Steven Doctorman, a Jewish Hopkins student, says he faced personal verbal attacks on social media for challenging statements he viewed as antisemitic during a walkout for Palestine liberation.

“I got labeled as a genocide supporter and an oppressor on Side Chat, which is an anonymous platform used for students to talk,” he said.

Kisa, a Muslim student using a pseudonym to avoid retaliation, says she was cornered by a group of students in October who accused her and her friends of painting a Palestinian flag on a Hopkins statue.

“One of them was very, very aggressive with us and was insinuating quite a few things that were very racist and Islamophobic,” Kisa said. “He literally had us like, up against the chain that separates the walkway and the greenery. So we couldn’t go anywhere until another girl from their group intervened and forced him to stop.”

Both students say that university leaders have not adequately addressed these incidents, or promoted safety effectively.

“They haven’t used the word antisemitic or Islamophobic within any of their messaging about the conflict,” Doctorman said. “And when working with the administration to try and find repercussions for harassment, discrimination or anything like that, there hasn’t been any results.”

Kisa said the university did not release a statement or increase protection for Muslim students even after three Palestinian college students in Vermont were shot over Thanksgiving weekend.

“I think the biggest thing on this campus, even past the Islamophobia, is the silence,” she said. “Nobody’s willing to talk.”

Director of Communications Shayne Buchwald-Nikoles says university leaders have prioritized “daily communication” with affected student groups.

Students who are victims of harassment can report their incidents to the Office for Institutional Equity, she said in an emailed statement.

“Harassment is not only a violation of policy at Hopkins but also antithetical to the values of our university,” she said. “Student safety is a top priority on our campus.”

But some students say the university needs to do more – especially for Muslim students, who face more physical threats and receive less protections.

Disparities in discrimination

Necha is a pro-Palestine Jewish student at Hopkins, using a pseudonym for safety. Last month, they were removed from a chat group for Hillel, the university’s center for Jewish life, after co-leading the walkout to call for Palestinian liberation.

“It was really kicking me out, like, you don’t belong in this Jewish community anymore,” they said.

Necha worries about the potential for antisemitic incidents.

“That threat is always there,” they said. “We see it happening on other campuses.”

But as a white-passing, Jewish student, they said they have never felt physically unsafe on campus.

“Jewish students are very scared of something happening. And for Muslim students, the things that Jewish students fear are currently happening to them,” Necha said. “I have not been followed around by random cars and having people yell slurs at me. That has happened to my Muslim friends.”

Doctorman said he and other Jewish students felt anxiety during the Palestinian walkout, when phrases they view as antisemitic were being chanted throughout campus.

Kisa said her experiences – being cornered and accused, being cursed at from a car window – are commonplace these days for Muslim students, especially those wearing hijabs.

“Because everybody that’s not Muslim is going to assume that you support Palestine if you wear a hijab,” she said. Many students have stopped wearing the keffiyeh, a traditional Middle Eastern head scarf, because of the increased harassment.

Inaya, another Muslim Hopkins student using a pseudonym, said that people would take photos of her and her peers and whisper as she walked by.

“That was the first time I realized that I was a hijab-wearing woman, is when I walked on campus to go to class, and I felt people looking at me,” she said.

Disparities in university response

Monica Davis, executive director of Hopkins Hillel, said multiple Jewish students have faced verbal harassment.

“It’s all verbal rhetoric that is hurtful to our Jewish students,” she said. “We view it as antisemitic, but the university is all about free speech. So that’s what we grapple with, the difference in where we draw the line between free speech and hate speech.”

The day after Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, Davis requested security guards for the Hillel building. Almost immediately, the university had a campus guard stationed all day, every day. And the Jewish Federation of Baltimore funded armed guards for services on Fridays and Saturdays.

Kisa said the Interfaith Center, where some Muslim students pray five times a day, did not receive extra security until they demanded it during a walkout for Palestinian liberation in early November.

Buchwald-Nikoles, Hopkins’ communications director, said the university placed an unarmed security guard outside of the center in October – and added an armed guard after receiving word that students wanted one.

Kisa also says that while Hillel had a counselor on-site, there hasn’t been any update on efforts to secure one for the Interfaith Center students.

“Sending an email and saying, ‘we’re here for you’ doesn’t do anything,” she said.

Doctorman said that there was no counselor stationed at Hillel — and that support has been largely internal, not university-appointed.

What do students want now? 

Both Jewish and Muslim students want more explicit communication from university leaders.

“It would be more important for the admin to explicitly voice support for Palestinian students and explicitly say that Islamophobia and doxing will not be tolerated,” Necha said. “The communications we get from the university are so vague and toothless, that I’m not satisfied with that response.”

Inaya says the university should name specific actions – like ripping down posters, taking photos of students – to better prevent them from happening again.

Doctorman says that doing the same for antisemitism and Jewish students “would at least be something of a signal that the administration stands with us in our time of need.”

This is especially true for addressing anonymous apps, Doctorman said, where leaders tend to “throw up their hands immediately.”

A Hopkins post on the anonymous app Sidechat that reads "The ceasefire just ended and Palestinians are back to being systemically murdered. Is now really the best time to block off public property that everyone walks through to put pictures of Israeli hostages? It's incredibly tone deaf imo." The post also includes a photo of Hopkins' campus. Screenshot from Sidechat.
A Hopkins post on the anonymous app Sidechat that reads, “The ceasefire just ended and Palestinians are back to being systemically murdered. Is now really the best time to block off public property that everyone walks through to put pictures of Israeli hostages? It’s incredibly tone deaf imo”

Kisa hopes that the university engages in more open dialogue with students going forward about what they need.

“And I think they need to be more aware of who their Palestinian students are, and actually pay attention to protecting them,” she said. “There’s not a lot of Palestinian students at Hopkins. The least you could do, especially following what’s happened in Vermont, is make sure that your Palestinian students specifically feel safe. And reach out to them and ask them what they want.”

Source: WYPR


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