ASU students in viral multicultural space video demand school fight racism, protect students of color

By: - November 17, 2021 8:37 am

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Arizona State University students and community advocates are demanding university leaders do more to protect students of color, publicly denounce white supremacy and take meaningful steps to provide a student-led multicultural center after three student leaders of color have faced death threats following a viral confrontation with two white students. 

The demands, made during a press conference Tuesday afternoon on the Tempe campus, followed a Sept. 23 incident where three leaders of the Multicultural Solidarity Coalition confronted two students who were in the space. One was wearing a “Did Not Vote For Biden” T-shirt and another had a “Police Lives Matter” sticker on his laptop. 

The confrontation, which was partially recorded, went viral and conservative and right-wing media and lawmakers shared some of the videos.

Instead of taking care of a student who has been socially lynched and verbally assaulted on campus, ASU basically said, ‘F--- you’ and decided they’d be a bigger pain in our asses and opening an investigation on us.

– Mastaani Qureshi

Sarra Tekola, an PhD candidate and activist with Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro, and Mastaani Qureshi, a student leader, were on the viral video confronting the two white students. Mimi Arayya, who is also getting her doctorate degree at ASU, was in the multicultural center that day. She said she was taunted by two white students.

Qureshi said since the confrontation she has received thousands of rape, death and lynching threats on social media and in their email inbox. Qureshi said she doesn’t feel safe walking on campus by herself and has been verbally assaulted. She said she holds ASU responsible for receiving lynching and rape threats online. 

“Instead of taking care of a student who has been socially lynched and verbally assaulted on campus, ASU basically said, ‘F— you’ and decided they’d be a bigger pain in our asses and opening an investigation on us,” Qureshi said. 

She said she has received no support from ASU’s administration.

“ASU is angry at me, and wants to put me back in my place as a Brown woman. ASU is punishing us for standing up for our friends and other students of color. ASU is punishing us for telling two white boys that only one room on campus is not going to center them.”

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ASU declined to respond to questions from the Arizona Mirror about the comments made during the press conference. 

A university spokesperson said the Dean of Students Office met with all students involved, but said it can’t share any additional information on how the cases were handled to protect student privacy. 

“As a public university, we are also committed to the free and robust exchange of ideas and to intellectual freedom and free expression, even on difficult topics,” the statement said. It said that  when a student violates the Student Code of Conduct they face “remedial action” which is not meant to be punitive, but rather educational. 

“Remedial actions may include administrative actions, educational interventions, and/or discipline,” the statement said. 

Qureshi said ASU told her and Tekola to turn in a statement by Dec. 15 explaining how they will facilitate a civil dialogue on the topic of race in the future. Qureshi said she won’t be turning in a statement, and that the only thing she would change about the September confrontation would be to approach the two students earlier. 

Tekola said during the investigation of the incident she was “asked to explain how yelling is part of Black people’s culture.” In the written assignment due in December, she said the university asked her to reflect on “how to be more civil to white people when we discuss race.” 

“ASU isn’t just allowing white supremacists… they are white supremacist themselves,” Tekola said.   

The student leaders said the ASU is refusing to protect students of color, and has instead asked the leaders of the Multicultural Solidarity Coalition to “tolerate racism.”

This fall, after advocacy from the Multicultural Solidarity Coalition, the university designated a single room as a Multicultural Space inside the building housing the Student Pavilion. 

ASU was looking into reprimanding Tekola, Qureshi and Arayya for violating the student code of conduct, they said. 

“Just got punished for standing up to racist people at ASU,” Quereshi. “This is exactly what ASU is scared of.” 

On Tuesday, the students’ attorney, Will Knight, said the university closed the disciplinary cases on them hours prior to the planned press conference. Arayya said that ASU responded to the pressure of nearly 3,500 people who signed a petition calling on the university to drop the code of conduct penalization on the students. 

“Black lives do, and always will, matter,” Arayya said. 

Rashad Shabazz, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Social Transformation, said what the students and their supporters are asking for is basic and necessary. 

“They tried to create a place that gave expression to anti-racism,” he said. “They tried to create a space that gave expression to anti-xenophobia. They tried to create a space that gave expression to critiques of patriarchy, and those are valuable. And they are how we do politics, they are how we organize our lives.”

In its proposal for the multicultural space, the coalition outlined four needs they wanted the multicultural space at ASU to serve: the need to recognize race and other marginalized identities; the need to provide increased services for marginalized communities; the need to provide a physical space for marginalized communities; and the need to address the hostility towards marginalized communities through training, services, and a safer environment. 

The group said it has heard from multiple students of color and other marginalized groups over the years that they feel unsafe on the Tempe campus. 

“This is such an issue that we have heard from multiple students who have either dropped out of college, transferred to a different school or become online students due to the hostile campus,” the proposal said. “A physical space for these marginalized and isolated students would create a space of inclusion, safety, and solidarity — one that does not exist today.”

At the press conference, Rebecca Denis, who works with Poder in Action, said when she was a student at ASU between 2008 and 2013, students of color also felt marginalized — and not much has changed. 

“It has always felt like a predominantly white institution that does the bare minimum to support students of color,” she said. “ASU has a culture of not wanting to take accountability. The people that get to be loud here are those speaking hateful speech and they are often white men.”

Since the incident, the space now has a front desk that is occasionally staffed, a Sun Card reader was added so only ASU employees and students have access to the space, and the university is hiring student ambassadors to support the “cultural advancement of the space,” according to the State Press.

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for education, immigration, political, and public safety reporting and Spanish-language news and feature reporting. Laura worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.

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