Students protest lack of action after 9/11 ceremony remarks


Photo courtesy of Charger Bulletin/Victoria Cagley

Protesters gather outside of Maxcy Hall and hold signs, West Haven, Sept. 20, 2021.

After an incident at the university’s 9/11 ceremony, students gathered in the Maxcy quad on Sept. 20 for a protest hosted by the Muslim Student Association (MSA). At the 9/11 ceremony, American Criminal Justice Association (ACJA) president Jillian Fiore used the phrase “Islamic extremist group” to describe al-Qaeda in her speech.

The protest was also meant to draw attention to what the MSA said was a lack of action within the university community, administration and the ACJA.

Students held signs that said, among other things: “Hold AJCA & their advisors accountable,” “My voice can’t be silenced it is too strong” and “Publicly said publicly apologize.”

Students said they attended in solidarity, and to support Muslims and Arabs on campus. Jillian Chmela, a forensic psychology student, said, “My goal today is to show support to the Muslim community and prevent any further bigotry on this campus, and to show support for my friends in the Muslim community because this cannot be tolerated.”

Chmela said she hoped her presence would help the Muslim community feel safer and included on campus.

Other students said they hoped to accomplish action plans toward change after being left dissatisfied at the open forum.

Youssef Ossama, sophomore business analytics major and treasurer and sergeant at arms of the MSA, said that after nothing came out of the open forum, and after a vigil to display unity, “we also decided to do this [protest] in order to make sure that everyone is accountable for what was said.”

“I am tired of watching my friends suffer because the school won’t apologize for something that is very easy to apologize for and to take accountability for it,” said junior forensic psychology major Mary Lippa.

An email with the subject line “Putting words to action” was sent to the student body by Steven Kaplan, university president, on the morning of the protest. The email did not refer to the remarks made at the remembrance ceremony. However, Kaplan announced that the dean of students and chief student affairs office, Ophelie Rowe-Allen, will be “taking a more formal role in overseeing our DEIB [diversity, equity, inclusion and balance] work on campus.”

Destiny “DJ” Jenkins-Rubins, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said that they hope to sponsor regularly-scheduled conversations, and for ACJA to be held accountable, whether that means impeaching the executive board, or training the members to be more sensitive.

Jenkins-Rubins said since ACJA is the biggest RSO on campus, they should represent who the student body is as a community, yet “we feel as though their actions don’t.”

Laila Soliman, sophomore general engineering major and director of communications and event coordinator of MSA, said that the people at the MSA protest were there to stand against the fact that Fiore, when talking about al-Qaeda, “used the word ‘Islamic’ because that perpetuates the idea that all Muslims are terrorists and we are not.”

“I understand that all people make mistakes,” said Soliman. “However, what you do after that is your choice, and she chose to not publicly apologize during the forum–we gave her many opportunities to apologize.”

Former treasurer of the ACJA Eve Hein said she aimed to initiate change within ACJA, which removed her from the executive board, alongside former executive assistant Renae Giard, after speaking at the open forum on Sept. 14.

“As a past part of ACJA e-board, I’ve personally seen the effect it’s had on the community, and especially the Muslim student population,” said Hein. “I have seen the hurt and upset and how exhausting it has been experiencing this. And it is so upsetting that this continues to happen”

Hein said it is upsetting that one of the largest RSOs on campus continues to “perpetuate ignorance and refuses to educate themselves.”

Some of the demonstrators went to ACJA’s weekly meeting to express their feelings.

At the meeting, representatives from multiple on-campus organizations–including MSA, NAACP, the Marine Conservation Society, Chariot Yearbook, Latin American Student Association, Hillel Club and PRIDE, among others–asked for the impeachment of Fiore as ACJA president.

Hein said that she spoke out against ACJA’s actions at the student forum and apologized to students on campus who were hurt by Fiore’s statements.

“And for those reasons, I was removed from the ACJA e-board this past week in an attempt to silence my voice and a movement for change,” she said. “According to my advisors, my views no longer aligned with the values of the organization.”

Giard then said that during the forum, she spoke to a student who said they were uncomfortable going to general ACJA meetings, telling them they could sit by her to make them feel more comfortable.

“In my statement at the forum, I also said that anyone who wanted to come to ACJA to participate, yell, scream or raise hell was welcome to do so–it is their right as a student on this campus,” she said. “I was told by the advisors of the organization that I was inciting violence while I was supported by countless other members of the University of New Haven community as well as higher up administrators for the same statement. For these reasons, I was removed from the AJCA executive board at the instruction of the advisors.”

MSA vice president Shahd Omar said, “Because terrorism has no religion, this rhetoric is highly harmful, and the fact that it was used is concerning.”

“We recognize that a large number of you club members plan to work in law enforcement, and this is why it is of the utmost importance that individuals must be educated about this sort of bias,” said Omar.

Other student organization representatives mentioned the removal of Fiore as president. After they spoke, a criminal justice first-year spoke out against the speeches given during the good of the order. The student suggested that rather than impeach, educate Fiore.

When Fiore made a motion to adjourn the meeting, Michael Desir, a senior music and sound recording major, stood up to object.

He said, “I believe if all of our goals is to move forward, constructively, and to understand one another, it’s better that we have this conversation now while we are gathered… We have the ability here and now, as living, breathing people, to speak for what you stand for today.”

Fiore responded that she understood Desir’s objection, but said that she did not have the proper resources for the discussion.

“This general meeting is not the place for it as there are students here that are uncomfortable and this doesn’t affect them and they are choosing to sit here because they’re too afraid to leave,” Fiore said. “So, I promise that there will be a discussion but I need the proper resources here to facilitate the discussion because we cannot have screaming back and forth.”