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SDSU President Apologizes To Students Protesting His Response To ‘Islamophobic’ Fliers

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Quinn Owen

A crowd of protesters and members of the media surround a police car where San Diego State University President Elliot Hirshman was in, April 27, 2016.

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About 70 students surrounded the police car San Diego State University President Elliot Hirshman was in, demanding an apology for his response to fliers that circulated on the campus two weeks ago.

About 70 students Wednesday surrounded a police car with SDSU President Elliot Hirshman inside it and demanded he apologize for his response to fliers posted on campus listing names of students who “have allied themselves with Palestinian terrorists to perpetrate (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) and Jew Hatred on this campus.”

A Facebook post calling on people to join the protest called the fliers "blatantly Islamophobic."

Hirshman, who was sitting on the passenger side of the police car, eventually got out and apologized to those gathered.

“It was a very small and simple apology, but it was what we were looking for,” protester Osama Alkhawaja said.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Pablo Tinoco

One of the fliers students say began circulating in April at San Diego State University, April 27, 2016.

According to the protesters, the posters began circulating on campus two weeks ago. In an email sent to students Tuesday, Hirshman said:

First, we recognize and fully support the rights of all parties to voice their positions on political issues, whether supportive or critical. We also understand that when parties adopt a specific political position they become responsible for their actions and these actions may produce criticism.

At the same time, we wish to raise an issue for our community to consider. It is possible that the practice of identifying the names of individual students who participate in controversial political discussions, solely for the purpose of identifying them as proponents of a viewpoint, could discourage students from participating in political discussions.

In this context, we write to encourage all members of our community to present their positions on important political issues, regardless of the nature of their position. We also wish to explicitly note that we strongly endorse our university policies protecting freedom of expression. We raise these issues to strengthen our tradition of vibrant discourse about ideas and issues and encourage all members of our community to participate in these discussions.

“All the people that are mentioned in the list are my friends,” Pablo Tinoca, a San Diego State University junior, said a few hours before the protest. He said that Hirshman’s email should have condemned the fliers and a classified ad that was published on The Daily Aztec on April 20:

Photo caption:

An ad that was published on The Daily Aztec, April 20, 2016.

“These students feel very unsafe on campus right now because they're being targeted and they're being called terrorists and sympathizers of terrorist organizations,” said Fayaz Nawabi, a senior and a member of the Muslim Student Association at SDSU.

Tinoca and Nawabi, who helped organized Wednesday’s protest, said that university officials at UCLA condemned similar fliers that showed up at the Los Angeles campus.

“The Canary Mission put out this list of students throughout the entire U.S. that are part of the Students For Justice In Palestine, and are saying that these people are terrorists and they are secretly trying to take over America, or something of that disgusting, obvious defamation,” Nawabi said.

Wednesday's protest was peaceful, but San Diego police did respond to help SDSU officers control the situation. Hirshman remained in a patrol car for about an hour before getting out to speak briefly to the protesters.

Hanif Mohebi, executive director of San Diego's Center on American Islamic Relations, told the crowd it was "shameful" that Hirshman was not addressing the crowd.

"This is unacceptable," Mohebi said. "I honor our brothers and sisters of all faiths that have gathered to support out Muslim brothers and sisters."


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