As someone who has personal experience with the new administration headed by President Fadlo Khuri, I found the opposing op-ed, written by Dana Abed, rather out of touch with the plethora of instances where freedom of speech has not only been compromised on campus, but completely annihilated at an institution that hails itself as a sanctuary of free-thinking in the region.
The new administration, in its attempts to start a line of communication with the students, has in fact created a sense of fear and intimidation regarding particularly controversial topics. Having personally attended one of the Town Hall meetings referenced in Dana Abed’s piece, I can vouch for their failure to create a so-called “effective dialogue” between the students and the administration. I was told that there are “boundaries to freedom of speech” when I questioned the university’s allegiance to US foreign policy. In fact, writing this op-ed, I feel limited in my ability to express my true feelings and describe my experiences as accurately as possible, for fear of regression.
Perhaps Outlook was once a medium for Palestinians to express their resistance, but to say that now would be an overestimation of the power of both the students and Outlook at AUB. As News Editor, I feel that there are many topics, however important, that I cannot touch upon in my coverage on campus, for fear that the issue might be retracted.
As a Palestinian myself, I have never felt like the administration has worked towards the betterment of the Palestinian cause on campus. It is entirely misleading to take the (few) protests that have taken place on campus in relation to the cause, specifically the Students Against Nestle movement, as indicators of freedom of speech and expression on campus.
Students were repeatedly ignored by the administration when asked to hold meetings regarding the presence of several problematic corporations on campus. Furthermore, when the students chose to take matters into their own hands by forming a blockade on Nestle Toll House, they were threatened with Dean’s warnings by the administration, further compromising student activism on campus.
Last year, the Palestinian Cultural Club was pressured to cancel a cultural event which involved performances by musical bands from refugee camps due to its coinciding with an event organized by the Social Club, which involved Nadeem Gemayel, son of Bachir Gemayel. After strenuous effort by the cabinet members, the cultural event fortunately took place. However, the cabinet, members of the club, and guests from the camps still felt like their presence on campus was unwanted and vulnerable.
Last Spring, a live interview was set up with the television show “Kalam Ennas.” Students received emails informing them that they would “join in this dialogue with President Khuri”. However, it was later discovered that several students were chosen beforehand to ask questions that were reviewed prior to the live show. A group of students then felt the need to take drastic measures by raising banners and signs during the interview on live television to attract the host’s attention in order to raise questions they deemed critical and necessary. Students were then compared to “Donald Trump”, and their claims were dismissed.
What was supposed to be an occasion for students to express their concerns to the administration turned into an arena to parade AUB and its achievements, rather than address underlying issues.
Needless to say, having been taught by Dr. Steven Salaita himself, I can guarantee that Palestine was a personal cause for him. Most people lack the perseverance and dedication that Dr. Salaita holds for Palestine, and to say that he uses Palestine as a sight to “gain sympathy” is unfathomable to me and to all of those who have been in a classroom with him. Furthermore, questioning his credibility goes beyond saying that Dana Abed lacks knowledge of his problem with AUB, as well as his professional work as an author and professor.
If freedom of speech entails the reprisal of student activism, the denial of the omnipresence of issues faced by students, and the selectivity of the ways in which students express their concerns, then AUB has done right in its empowerment of freedom of speech. In all these instances, the freedom to express one’s opinion seemed like a cumbersome task, packaged with serious consequences.
My experience, as well as that of many of my fellow students, only serves to add to the pattern of events that make it all too difficult for us as students to truly be critical of the institutions we take for granted. It is no wonder that student activism is almost nonexistent on campus; whatever remains of it is mild and so carefully regulated, such that it maintains the system, instead of challenging it.