Raza: It is Vanderbilt, not the Sanctuary Campus protesters, that must change


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Campus of Vanderbilt Unversity in Nashville, Tennessee.

Hamzah Raza

Yesterday, Joshua Mendelson wrote a piece in Vanderbilt Political Review in which he condemned the behavior of Vanderbilt protesters and demanded that we apologize to Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos.

To begin, Mendelson’s criticism delves into the age-old rabbit hole of respectability politics. Respectability politics is premised on the notion that minority groups need to behave better in order to receive better treatment from those in power.

Such a notion is problematic, as it shifts the responsibility away from the perpetrators and onto its victims. Instead of calling upon those perpetuating racist acts to change, Mendelson is instead asking us, the people harmed by the racism, to change. This presumption is based on the false rationale that this change can be used to stop us from being harmed by racism.

Protesting is by its nature disruptive. That is literally the point of a protest: To disrupt the everyday nature of an event in order to draw attention to our issue. For Mendelson to condemn how protestors spoke on the phone with the Chancellor completely misses the point of the protest. Creating tension and discomfort is a vital part of direct action.
Perhaps the most problematic part of Mendelson’s piece is his assertion that our protest is “noble,” essentially saying that he supports the goals of a sanctuary campus, but disagrees with our tactics.

As Martin Luther King Jr writes in his Letter from Birmingham Jail:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time, and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”

Our demands are neither complicated nor should they be controversial. Whether or not Vanderbilt University would aid in putting me in an internment camp, as Trump surrogate, Carl Higibie, cited as a precedent for Muslim registries on national television the night of our protest, should not be something that Chancellor Zeppos even has to think about. It should be an immediate,”Of course not.”

Protesting is by its nature disruptive. That is literally the point of a protest: To disrupt the everyday nature of an event in order to draw attention to our issue.

The fact that this is something I even have to protest, or that the University has to think about, represents the moral bankruptcy that pervades both this University and our country. The fact that I am being condemned by a fellow student for raising my voice at the fact that my country is being ruled by a man who has led the Ku Klux Klan to say,”This is our time” is utterly repulsive. Leading Neo-Nazis forming Super PACS and holding conferences in DC where they exclaim,”Hail Trump,” while throwing up Nazi salutes should be condemned. Donald Trump calling for mass deportations and Muslim registries should be condemned. Trump surrogates who call for putting Muslims in internment camps should be condemned.

Vanderbilt’s inability to say that it will protect its students from being kidnapped by immigration authorities who intend to disrupt their education and send them to a country that they have not been to in nearly two decades should be condemned. Vanderbilt, a university that lacked the moral integrity to even call Professor Carol Swain’s comments “racist,” should be condemned for failing to ever take a stand against Islamophobia.

The most Chancellor Zeppos has done for me as a Muslim student is put some halal food in dining halls. The fact that he cannot instinctively say that Vanderbilt will not aid in creating a “Muslim registry,” a policy proposal that reeks all to much of Nazi Germany, says something about how Vanderbilt stands on Islamophobia.

Unfortunately, in this world of respectability politics, Chancellor Zeppos can keep quiet about the fact that he has not said a word about Trump, despite the fact that over 200 faculty members have called on him to do so. Chancellor Zeppos can pretend that mass deportations and Muslim registries are something that he should ignore, despite the massive amount of students that sat in on his office.

Presidents at numerous universities such as Columbia, Reed College, and Portland State, have declared their schools to be sanctuary campuses. Hundreds of cities in the United States have declared themselves to be sanctuary cities.

While cities and universities around the country declare themselves to be sanctuaries, let Vanderbilt turn a new leaf and become a place where minority students are appreciated and tolerated, not condemned for their lack of respectability.

Vanderbilt provided the initial investments to create the Corrections Corporation of America, the world’s largest private prison. While hundreds of Universities divested from apartheid South Africa, Vanderbilt decided to never divest. Vanderbilt’s history in regard to social justice is an ugly history. In Chancellor Zeppos failure to declare Vanderbilt a sanctuary campus, along with students like Joshua Mendelson condemning fellow students who engage in direct action, Vanderbilt is continuing down its ugly path, in regard to social justice, as opposed to treading a new one.