CAIRO – Feeling betrayed in their home country by repeated scandals of police surveillance, American Muslim students in Pennsylvania are planning events to spread awareness about their rights when dealing with law enforcement authorities.
“Truthfully, I think that this likely feels like a personal violation of student rights,” Amara Chaudhry, Civil Rights Director and Staff Attorney of the organization, told The Daily Pennsylvanian newspaper.
“There may be some Equal Protection issues in that it appears that the officials are targeting a specific population based on minority status."
The Muslim Students Association plans an event titled "Know Your Rights” to educate students about their rights when dealing with law enforcement authorities.
The move followed revelations by The Associated Press (AP) that New York police department monitored Muslim college students at schools far beyond the city limits.
According to AP, the police talked with local authorities about professors 300 miles away in Buffalo and sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip, where he recorded students' names and how many times they prayed.
Police detectives also trawled Muslim student websites every day though professors and students had not been accused of any wrongdoing.
The revelations angered Muslim civil rights groups, who described the police surveillance as a violation of their civil and religious rights.
Along with raising students’ awareness, MSA is also working to reevaluate their organizational structure to better prepare for a situation like this in the future, including the appointment of a full-time Muslim chaplain.
The current Muslim chaplain, Marc Manley, only works five hours a week, whereas peer schools such as Yale University employ a full-time chaplain.
“It has become a priority for MSAs at those schools to build an institution that can … improve Muslim life on campus, but in an extreme case can also advocate for Muslim life on campus,” Manley said.
The Muslim student body also called for building a prayer room on Penn. campus to accommodate the students' religious needs.“At those schools, having staff responsible for the Muslim community helped the schools to smooth the process this past week,” College junior and MSA president Mak Hussain said.
A Stand Against ProfilingProtesting police surveillance, MSA students participated in a mass demonostration against New York police on Friday.
Themed "NYPD Files: A Stand Against Profiling”, the protestors held manila folders representing their NYPD files and took turns presenting personal facts about themselves, ending with statements such as, “And I’m a Muslim and that’s all the NYPD cares about.”
“I think [the demonstration] went well, especially with the support from beyond the community,” Hussain, the MSA president, told The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Hussain explained that the demonstration’s success would only be judged according the the effect it had on other students.
“You really want to make people think,” he said.
“Hopefully the people walking by took something from it.”
Several student groups, including Hillel and Programs in Religion, Interfaith and Spirituality Matters, have already pledged solidarity with MSA.
On Sunday night, the Undergraduate Assembly passed a resolution to support MSA.
University Chaplain Chaz Howard praised the idea as raising peoples’ awareness on the problems Muslim students face in their home country, just for being Muslims.
“I was really moved by some of the non-MSA students who were there and their response,” he said.
“It was really inspiring for different members of the community to say they stood with the MSA.”
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