Dr. Arshad I. Ali drew attention to the surveillance of American Muslim students and the historic racialization of the term “Muslim” during his visit to campus last week as part of the Race and Education Lecture Series.
Ali was the most recent in the annual Race and Education Lecture Series, which began in 2001 after student protests emerged surrounding the namesake of 113 Broad Street, a dorm building previously named after former Colgate President George B. Cutten. Students demanded Cutten’s name be taken off the building after finding Cutten’s public anti-immigration quotes on display in the Ellis Island National Museum. The building was officially stripped of the name “Cutten Hall” renamed “113 Broad” in 2017.
“The melting pot is destructive to our race ... we must build up from our resources and conserve our race power, or else we must admit only such immigrants as shall strengthen and not weaken our race, or both. The danger the melting pot brings to the nation is the breeding out of the higher division of the white race and the breeding in of the lower divisions,” the quote at the Ellis Island National Museum reads. The quote was taken from Cutten’s address to the Canadian Society of New York in 1923.
The lecture series, hosted by the Department of Educational Studies, was created to “continue a dialogue about race on campus.” Each year, a list of potential speakers is compiled by the department and discussed with consideration taken to student desires. Both Department of Educational Studies Chair Mark Sterne and Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Sally Bonet said they felt Ali was a particularly suited speaker for this year’s education lecture given the current political climate. Bonet explained that Ali’s area of focus also works to complicate the generally accepted scope of what “race issues” encompass.
Ali discussed the historic racialization of the term “Muslim” in America. Weaving through examples like racist memes of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and President Donald Trump’s tweet to send her and three other Congresswomen of color “back” to where they came from, Ali explained the complicated intersection of racial, gender and religious persecution that exists in the term “Muslim.” Ali explained that the 9/11 demonization of Muslims as a racial category is not new but rather connected to political projects dating back to the Spanish Inquisition.
“I think that it’s plausible that many students who are on campus now...post-9/11 has been generally their life, some parts of that world had been normalized and internalized. Notions about who a terrorist is and what the state’s role in stopping terrorism. I think that sometimes lectures like this can have a role in providing needed intervention and sort of piercing what seems like common sense about how we think about geopolitical, racial, religious, economic conversations,” Stern said.
Ali also discussed the security state which now exists in America that is suspicious of Muslim youth, as displayed through state surveillance of Muslim college students. He shared stories of his students who found FBI tracking devices in their cars or were approached by the FBI for their involvement with Muslim student groups or related studies. Associate Professor in History and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Noor Khan said she thinks Ali’s visit was important in helping students realize surveillance can and has occurred at Colgate.
“There is real surveillance happening right now. It’s not an abstract or far away thing,” Khan said. “[I wanted] to draw attention to the fact that it was happening right here, and that their own classmates [are] vulnerable.”
Last year this lecture featured Harvard University’s Dr. Jarvis Givens, who spoke about the history of African American schooling, and specifically the legacy of African American teachers working in an oppressive school structure in the era of Jim Crow authorities. Before Givens, queer visual artist of color Julia Salgado delivered this lecture about immigration and queerness.
“Bringing professor Ali at the moment...was a really interesting and important moment because we wanted to sort of have our campus to think about the ways in which Muslim youth are framed right now, and in the political climate that we are in we believe that was a really important moment,” Bonet said.
Stern said this history informs the speakers chosen every year.
“All of us sitting around that table [deciding] know that history and I think we make decisions and act in the spirit that...is aligned and in solidarity with [how] those students and [how] contemporary students try to hold the University accountable to its own ideals. I think we want to foster conversations in communities that continue to do that really important work,” Stern said.
Ali visited Bonet and visiting instructor of Education Studies Laura Jaffee’s class. Ali also met with the Colgate Muslim Student Association, the Education Studies Honors students and faculty.