Student Government Letters of Support Seek to Raise Awareness, Enact Change

The letters advocate for students observing Ramadan, the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle Eastern Studies and observance of World AIDS Day.


Anton Grassl

Muslim students usually use the prayer rooms on the fourth floor of GCASL during the month of Ramadan. (Via ICNYU)

Julia Baxley, Staff Writer

NYU Student Government Assembly generally passes multiple letters of support every semester that seek to take a stance, call attention to or demand action on a pressing issue. WSN spoke to the authors of three recent letters of support about what they hope comes from them.

The three letters — passed Nov. 7 — were written in support of the observance of Ramadan, Duke-UNC’s Consortium for Middle Eastern Studies and World AIDS day. In addition to these three letters, the SGA passed a letter supporting smaller language departments and a letter urging the closing of Rikers Island this semester. Senator at-Large and GLS junior Aya Ouda said the letters are addressed to relevant administrators who are then expected to enact change. 

“I expect to see concrete changes from these letters,” Ouda said. “The relevant offices and administrators have been addressed. All authors of the resolution, including myself, have spent time and energy doing our own research and citing sources for inspiration. We hope to work with administration in creating a more inclusive university.”

Observance of Ramadan
This letter advocates for policies to facilitate students’ observation of Ramadan and calls for NYU to publicly condemn Islamophobia. It asks the university to modify exam periods to accomodate Muslim prayer services, allow Safe Ride to bring students to prayer services at night and to extend operating hours of the Kimmel Center for University Life and the Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life during the month-long obervance of Ramadan. 

Ouda, whose constituency includes Muslim students, said she has taken steps to provide Muslim students with a platform to express their views on the observance of Ramadan and on how to improve their experience.

“I will be hosting a town hall for Muslim students to voice their opinions,” Ouda said. “I created a form for students to anonymously express their own experience with Ramadan. This letter provides insight into a global and individual perspective of Muslim identity in academic spaces.”

Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle Eastern Studies
This letter, written on Oct. 7, supports the consortium, which is a collaboration to promote and coordinate Middle Eastern studies at the two universities. The U.S. Department of Education threatened to pull Title VI funding from the consortium in August, on the grounds that it does not mention historic discrimination faced by religious minorities, such as Christians and Jews, in the Middle East.

Zachary Lockman, Chair of the NYU Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Department, believes the allegations by the DOE are absurd. He emphasized how important it is for members of the NYU community to see the SGA show solidarity with the consortium.

“It’s really important for people to stand up, like the students did, like a lot of faculty and associations did, and say ‘We’re not going to be intimidated, we’re going to go on doing our work as we have been, and we’re not going to back down in the face of these kinds of threats and ridiculous allegations,’” Lockman said. 

Lockman believes pushback from various universities has caused the DOE to back off.

“It’s important […] to make it clear that we’re not going to be intimidated. It’s not acceptable for the federal government to use its power in this kind of way, to threaten people,” Lockman said. “It threatens academic freedom, it threatens education.”

CAS sophomore and Senator at-Large for Middle Eastern students John Kallas, who wrote the letter, said he received a response from the Duke-UNC Consortium that said “We appreciate the show of support and the proactive leadership that NYU is demonstrating.”

World AIDS Day
The SGA also approved a letter in support of the observance of World AIDS Day. Gallatin junior Hayden Howard, who wrote the letter, said although little has happened in the one week since the letter was passed, he is confident that it is moving in the right direction.

The letter demanded NYU recognize World AIDS day and hire an HIV/AIDS professional for the Wellness Center to provide an added resource for HIV-positive students experiencing mental health issues. It also called for more education about HIV prevention.

Howard said being open about his HIV status and speaking out about prevention is important in the context of the often-stigmatized disease.

“It is a huge deal,” Howard said. “It is the first time that something that this has been led by a student like me. I am very open about this and I think that makes people want to be more open. You can’t enact change in a community or place unless you are having these discussions out in the open in public.”

Correction, Nov. 13: A previous version included an incorrect date for the town hall referenced by Ouda. A date has not yet been set for that town hall. The article has been corrected, and WSN regrets the error.

Email Julia Baxley at [email protected]