Posters on Eastern Avenue vandalised by anti-Muslim hate messages
WORDS BY APARNA BALAKUMAR
Trigger Warning - The following article discusses Islamophobia and may be distressing to some readers.
Fifteen Student Representative Council (SRC) posters on Eastern Avenue supporting a ‘Welcome Refugees’ rally and a ‘#LetThemStay’ student protest have been defaced overnight with anti-Muslim messages. The vandalised posters, which included messages saying “terrorists”, “fuck off” and “Muslims rape babies”, were taken down this morning after being discovered by a University of Sydney Union (USU) staff member.
The posters were discovered following a string of recent anti-Islamic actions at the University, including revelations by Honi Soit of Islamophobic slurs drawn onto the Graffiti Tunnel and the Muslim students’ prayer room being broken into and trashed five times in the past three months.
Postgraduate Education Officer Ahmed Suhaib has expressed disappointment in the University administrations slow response to the series of hate crimes.
“The University of Sydney is supposed to be a safe space for all students regardless of their religion, and ethnicity,” Suhaib told Pulp. “I wonder if the University is waiting for one of the Muslim students to get hurt before they take any serious action. For now I ask all Muslim students to speak out against any islamophobia they experience on campus. It is important we let the University know that this behaviour is unacceptable and we would like them to take serious actions against the culprit."
USU President Alisha Aitken-Radburn has told Pulp she was also incredibly distressed upon finding out about the defaced posters earlier today. She has confirmed the Union Board will be meeting tomorrow to discuss how to further assist affected students and she has instructed Campus Security to review CCTV footage and find the perpetrators.
“I think the University’s current action in fighting Islamophobia is completely inadequate,” Aitken-Radburn told Pulp. “It’s very frustrating when Student Organisations [SRC, USU, SUPRA] are more able and more visible in protecting and supporting students on campus than University administration”.
Pulp can confirm Aitken-Radburn sent an email this morning to Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence, Chair of Academic Board Tony Masters, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Registrar) Tyrone Carlin, SRC President Chloe Smith and SUPRA Co-Presidents Christian Jones and Kylee Hartman-Warren, urging the University to better assist Muslim students in feeling “loved, valued and supported on campus”.
“I am aware that Nasreen Dean and some other representatives from the Sydney University Muslim Students' Association (SUMSA) had a chat with administration on Monday - she's expressed to me that they really need CCTV around the prayer room and more security especially in the night prayer period (5.30pm onwards),” the email read.
“It is so upsetting to me personally to see these posters defaced on our vibrant campus, so I can't begin to imagine how Muslim students feel.”
Last night at the second SRC Council meeting a motion was passed for $1000 of SRC central funds to be donated to SUMSA. The funds are to be put towards the renovation and refurnishing of the Islamic Prayer rooms.
Councillors also agreed to put a full page ad in Honi Soit condemning Islamophobia on campus and to show solidarity to affected students.
SRC President, Chloe Smith, has released a statement calling for University management to take a stronger stance in fighting Islamophobia and ensuring all students, no matter their faith or cultural background, feel safe and welcome. Smith also encouraged students to utilise the free casework services available via the SRC if they feel distressed as a result of the bigotry.
The Autonomous Collective Against Racism (ACAR), a safe space where students can unite over their shared experiences of racism, has also pledged their solidarity to affected Muslim students. Office Bearer, Adam Ursino, told Pulp, “University should be a place to learn and to challenge ideas, not a place to share baseless and vitriolic Islamophobic comments. This disturbing pattern of Islamophobia on campus recently must be both condemned and combatted”.
Lamisse Hamouda, former ACAR Office Bearer & Muslim Wom*n's Collective member who ran a identity-based USU campaign raising awareness of Muslim women and Islamophobia has told Pulp, "We know - given the rhetoric emerging out of the USA and Trumps campaign - that the space for anti-Muslim sentiment is becoming increasingly permissible."
"This not only endangers global diaspora Muslim communities, but our own Muslim students at the University of Sydney. We have a thriving and positive scene of Muslim student activists across SUMSA, the Muslim Wom*ns Collective & the Ahlul Bayt Society. The University of Sydney needs to take a public and vocal stance to condemn anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia on campus (and the world) and display unequivocal solidarity with their Muslim identifying staff and student communities."
Serious incidents of racial vilification against Muslim students at the University of Sydney have made headlines before. In 2014, Honi Soit revealed a female Muslim student was told to hang herself with her hijab on her way home. Members of SUMSA were also told they were “trying to make 9/11 happen all over again” when handing out flyers to promote Islamic Awareness Week.
At the time a spokesperson for Vice- Chancellor Michael Spence said: “The Vice-Chancellor…urges any student with a specific complaint to let his office and appropriate authorities know of their concerns”. The USU Board also promised to discuss a range of options to ensure such Islamophobia was actively discouraged and condemned.
UPDATE: SUMSA has released a statement calling for a right to religious freedom at the University of Sydney, “free from attack, abuse and vilification”.
“No student nor community should have to feel unsafe while practicing their faith. There is real distress and apprehension from these string of incidences spiralling down to physical confrontation and the threat of serious harm. We demand the University attend to the current lack of urgency in this matter and aid us in preventative action. We'd like to reiterate, as we proposed in our meeting with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor on Monday, that the university makes its stance on Islamophobia clear to all and address this issue at a global level to all students and staff on campus, to display promptness in taking the necessary measures and most importantly, not affecting the students religious needs and their access to safe prayer spaces in the process”.