Students speak out about facing threats on campus, many walk out of ASUS Special General Meeting

Students 'hope our footsteps will echo louder than our voices can'

About three-quarters of students walked out of ASUS Assembly's special general meeting Sunday following a call from the Queen's Coalition Against Racial and Ethnic Discrimination (QCRED) Resignation Not Impeachment campaign against ASUS President Jacob Mantle.

The AMS executive and various student groups asked Mantle to resign after he responded to a Facebook photo of two girls wearing scarves on their heads, saying "I like your Taliban picture."

Mantle announced he wouldn't step down at ASUS Assembly Nov. 6.

Speaking on behalf of the campaign, QCRED Co-ordinator Aruna Zehra Boodram, ArtSci '10, called ASUS an "illegitimate body for discussion" and asked students to walk out of the meeting in solidarity with anti-racist efforts on campus.

"The silence of the majority of the students in regards to the rights of Muslims on this campus has spoken volumes about Queen's priorities," she said. "And so, silenced time and again by the denial of our own lived experiences, we will leave silent and hope that our footsteps will echo louder than our voices can."

Prior to the walkout, a number of Muslim students spoke publicly for the first time about taunts and physical threats they've received on campus and how those increased after the issue of the Facebook comment broke out.

Rector Leora Jackson was one of the student leaders who walked out.

"I think a lot of people in the room felt like ASUS, by not condemning [the comments], was tacitly condoning them," she said. "We felt it was important for people to know that that wasn't the case."

Jackson said people shouldn't make generalizations about those who stayed and those who left, because whether to walk out was a personal choice each student had to make.

She said because there were no motions to vote on or other venues to express disenfranchisement, students might have felt a walkout was the most effective public action. "Something like a walkout is one of the only ways you can make a lasting statement," she said.

Student Trustee Michael Ceci, ASUS Student Senator Brooks Barnett and AMS Vice-President (University Affairs) Stephanie St. Clair and Social Issues Commissioner Kavita Bissoondial, who both sat in the gallery, also left the meeting.

Discussion on the two agenda topics-campus response to Islamophobia and ASUS's action plan on diversity-continued with 17 people remaining in the gallery.

Louis Tsilivis, Comm '10 and ArtSci '11, said he thought the walkout was hypocritical.

"We had a big group of people come out and say they felt they weren't being heard but they walked out and they didn't hear the other side," he said. "I don't think it's good for dialogue."

Tsilivis said he's disappointed with the student leaders who left the meeting.

"I guess to them it was solidarity but to me it showed ignorance and unwillingness to listen to the other side."

Elamin Abdelmahmoud, ArtSci '09 and ASUS president 2007-08, asked ASUS Speaker Gabriella Siciliano to hold an informal poll of Assembly members to see how many of them support Mantle at this time.

"The point I'm trying to make is, if there's a big division, then this Assembly can't move forward for the rest of the year," he said.

Siciliano refused his request on the grounds that many Assembly members felt uncomfortable answering; an attempt to overrule her decision was voted down by Assembly.

Some ASUS Assembly members said they would write letters to the student leaders who walked out, saying that their action wasn't representative of their constituents.

ASUS 2009 Year Society President Hakim Kassam said he walked out of the meeting partly due to personal convictions but also because most of the students who have talked to him have expressed a similar opinion.

"My constituents were present in the Assembly meeting and if my constituents feel it's necessary to walk out, I as a representative also feel it's necessary to walk out."

Kassam said he's disappointed more Assembly members didn't walk out.

"The fact that 70 per cent of the gallery walked out shows that a lot of people do side in solidarity with the QCRED statement," he said. "I feel that with 30 members on Assembly and only four walking out, that's not representative of arts and science students."

Kassam said he hopes there will be more meetings to discuss diversity issues on campus.

"If you look at the outcry that came as a result of the decision to cancel Homecoming, I'm really surprised that that got more negative attention from students than this issue is getting," he said. "That personally upsets me because I think the fact that racism is so prevalent at Queen's is something that really needs to be addressed."

-With files from Alexi White

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