Tweets spark student demonstrations

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Tweets spark student demonstrations

Eliza Posner, Staff Reporter

More than a hundred NU-Q students and alumni held a demonstration on Sunday afternoon in the school’s auditorium in response to a series of Twitter posts made by Justin Martin, associate professor in residence at Northwestern University in Qatar. 

In his Saturday afternoon tweets, Martin referenced an incident that occurred during a faculty meeting held over nine months ago. At the January 24, 2019 meeting, Martin alleged that when NU-Q Dean Everette Dennis was informed that many Muslim students complained that the graduation was set to be held during Ramadan fasting hours, Dennis said, “To hell with them.”

While the comment that sparked the current controversy occurred in the past, Martin said he was reviving the incident now because the dean’s comment was something he had repeatedly thought about in the months since. 

Martin said that he was “tired of being complicit” in what he believes were misdoings of the school and decided to raise them on Twitter.

However, in a community meeting (“Conversation with Provost Holloway”) held at 12:30 Sunday, Dennis refuted Martin’s account of his statement and said that his comments had been “plainly misconstrued and conflated.” He added, “I never said to hell with you the students. I said to hell with the complaints that were coming to me.” But he also said that his comment represented a “poor choice of words.” 

Dennis said that the timing of Martin’s remarks were “obviously very much timed” to coincide with the provost’s visit to NU-Q, and in fact, demonstrated Martin’s “vendetta against the dean.” Martin, however, said that the interests of the students motivated his tweets. Martin’s tweets were made on the eve of the provost’s visit.

Later, in a 3:30 pm meeting between Provost Holloway, Dean Dennis and Northwestern University in Qatar Student Union representatives (NUQSU), Dennis reiterated that Martin’s tweet misrepresented his comment.

“I’m not going to apologize for something Justin Martin made up,” he said. “I have a right to defend myself, too, if I’m being castigated for something that I really didn’t do.”

Associate Professor in Residence Susan Dun, who was also present at the January meeting, said that, while she did not remember the exact wording of Dennis’s comment, it “was definitely not directed towards students, Muslims, Arabs or people at all.” 

According to Dun, Dennis “seemed a little frustrated” when he made his initial comment. However, he “immediately caught himself and gave a full explanation of what the variables were that were going into the decision and explained that the university didn’t have a lot of control over choosing the time.” 

NU-Q’s graduation time was changed from the afternoon to the evening, after the breaking of the daily fast of Ramadan.  

In a statement issued Sunday morning, Dennis and Holloway wrote, “As a community, we all have a responsibility to be respectful of each other and our differences. Over the past decade, there have been instances where we failed to reach that standard and for that, we apologize.” 

NU-Q’s statement about Professor Justin Martin’s tweets.

The statement continued, “There are no claims of perfection at NU-Q; we are all human; however, we are also one community.”  

In response, Martin said the statement will not “satisfy students and others at Northwestern, or conscientious people elsewhere, who were hurt by Dennis’s words.”

NU-Q’s first statement was released prior to the meeting with Provost Holloway, where students brought up a variety of concerns.

Farah Al Sharif,  NU-Q senior and spokesperson for the student demonstrators, read a statement that listed a number of topics students want addressed by the administration, including issues concerning Title IX reporting processes, a lack of Middle East representation in the faculty and staff, as well as comments made by NU-Q administration that students viewed as disparaging and intimidating.

“We demand change, we demand a public apology,” said Al Sharif.

A second statement issued by Dennis and Holloway stated, “We are committed to reviewing each of the issues raised and will work with you all on finding appropriate solutions.”  

Dean Dennis and Provost Holloway’s follow-up to the town hall meeting.

Sarah Shaath, president of NU-Q’s Student Union, also released a statement: “Moving forward, we will be working closely with the Provost’s Office to find the best solutions to build a stronger, inclusive community,” Shaath wrote. “We ask students to continue to work with their NUQSU class representatives to offer useful solutions, bring about awareness and work toward positive change.” 

NUQ-SU President Sarah Shaath’s email to the NU-Q Student Body.

Another matter discussed at Sunday’s 12:30 meeting involved a July 12, 2008 blog by Jocelyn Sage Mitchell, an assistant professor in residence at NU-Q. In the post, which Mitchell copy and pasted from another source, the original author of the post listed several observations about Qatar, some of which were seen as insulting, including: “The scent (reek) of sweat, and some ‘nationalities’ literally pushes you back a few feet” and that the “ratio of Men to Women is 8:2 with the ratio of Ugly Women to Not So Ugly Women being 9:1.” 

On Saturday night, Mitchell apologized for the post in a statement posted on Twitter by Martin. “I’m so sorry that I have upset you,” she wrote. “I apologize to all who are offended. This blog doesn’t represent the scholar, community member, and person that I am now.”

Mitchell reiterated this apology at the 12:30 meeting.

 

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