On September 30, Trinity students and faculty started an open discussion on oppression and prejudice in American society. The discussion included Trinity professors and students and was put on by Trinity Progressives.
“The goal is to just to have an open place. So we do want to welcome diverse opinions,” said Kassie Kelly, a sophomore at Trinity and treasurer for Trinity Progressives.
While different opinions were welcomed to the panel, the Trinity Conservatives Facebook group did discuss plans of disrupting the dialogue.
“The issue that happened on social media with some negative opinions about the event just kind of showed us that as a community, this education and people coming together as the Trinity community at large needs to happen,” Kelly said.
The discussion was sparked by the recent arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, a young Muslim boy in Texas.
“The story is a fourteen “” year “” old kid builds a clock, goes to school, his teacher thinks it’s a bomb, he’s arrested and suspended for it and it captures national headlines,” said Simran Singh, assistant professor of religion.
While the case and Islamophobia were discussed, the dialogue focused on the issues of prejudice and oppression in general.
“While it may appear to be an instance of just Islamophobia, we decided that it was actually just a manifestation of prejudice in general and that was a great opportunity to bring more of the campus together and make it a broader discussion. The situation was a great catalyst to have a greater conversation,” said Nick Santulli, a sophomore at Trinity and co-president of the Trinity Progressives.
Trinity Progressives felt like the arrest of Mohamed showed how important it was to have an open dialogue about race and prejudice.
“Ahmed’s situation was almost kind of like a springboard, if that’s the right word, off of the bigger issues. So we kind of focused on this event, yes because it brought to light so many of the issues we’re currently facing as a country and as a human race,” Kelly said.
After discussing the Mohamed case, the panel opened the dialogue to the broader consequences of the young boy’s arrest.
“This was the first time I’ve asked a question about a social or political event where I’ve asked my students the next day, “˜have you heard about this?’ and every single one of my students raised their hands. So something about this story is unique in that it’s capturing the imagination of the general public,” Singh said.
The panel discussed what made Ahmed’s situation so unique in the context of American history.
“There’s something in American history that is based on the freedom of religion. That’s the foundation of this country. Okay, the people that you established this country came here for the freedom of religion. Countless people who now live in America, who immigrated to America over the past several centuries, including members of my own family, moved here as political refugees who were escaping religious persecution elsewhere,” Singh said. “So on the one hand we have the story of America that is based on religious freedoms. On the other hand, we have the case of Ahmed Mohamed, and other cases like this, where people have been oppressed on the basis of religious identity. There is a long history in America of the oppression of minority identities.”
The panel then brought the discussion back to the Trinity community by addressing instances of prejudice and oppression that students have faced.
“How has this case affected you?” said John Jacobs, assistant director of student involvement.
Students then shared their past experiences with racism and prejudice and how in a post 9/11 world, there is a connection that difference equals fear.
“I grew up Muslim and so growing up and going to elementary school literally the year after 9/11, there were police, because I went to a Muslim private school, there were police at our school. Thankfully they were there to protect us from people from the area who would want to hurt us or something,” said Sarah Zbidi, a first year at Trinity.
The panel also discussed how Ahmed’s case was unique because it actually gained publicity.
“This is the one case that happened to hit big. But for every one case there are thousands of other stories, including my own and including your own, that never get any attention,” Singh said.
Other students brought up the question of if Ahmed Mohamed got the better side of the deal, being offered admission into schools like Massachusetts Institute of Technology and invitations to the White House. This comment sparked murmuring in the crowd and Alex Perkowski, a sophomore at Trinity, said, “He was arrested.”
The panel continued the discussion of prejudice by recognizing that it is not just religious or racial minorities who face discrimination. Trinity senior, Nikita Chirkov, brought up the fact that he receives hate mail for his political opinions. However, other students brought up the fact that he only received negative responses when he spoke out and not for having a certain religion or skin color.
“I just wanted to say you’re lucky. You should not have your opinion be something people are prejudiced about, but you’re lucky that you’ve only faced that once you opened your mouth,” said Elena Soris, a junior at Trinity.
The meeting continued by discussing the way terrorism is racially coated and how, since 9/11, race and crime have had a unique relationship. The panel ended with the take-away that this conversation needs to keep happening among student leaders and the Trinity community as a whole.
“I think it’s important that we continue the conversation,” Jacobs said.