Photo courtesy of Zubair Kabir
On Nov. 2, Stony Brook University (SBU) student and Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Senator Sarah El Baroudy posted an Instagram story of her vandalized car. In red paint, her door read, “terrorist” and “go to hell.”
In the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks — in which Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, launched an invasion of Israel and killed over 1,200 people — the situation in Gaza has escalated dramatically. Israel has since killed over 20,000 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. In the United States, the violence has been the source of political tensions between supporters of Israel and Palestine on college campuses, and their respective school’s leadership.
At SBU, pro-Palestine students like El Baroudy say they are facing an onslaught of discrimination and disregard — and that the administration has done nothing about it.
Shortly after El Baroudy posted the video of her vandalized car, an alert was sent out via email to notify students that the University Police Department (UPD) was investigating a possible on-campus “bias incident.” El Baroudy followed up with another Instagram story. She clarified that the incident was a distasteful joke played by a friend, who she did not identify by name.
“Regardless, this brought attention to the fact that Islamophobia runs rampant on our campus and it needs to be recognized and addressed,” El Baroudy wrote in her Instagram story.
An email from SBU President, Maurie McInnis, condemning the “erroneous report of a bias crime,” was sent out that evening.
“While ultimately UPD determined that in this case no bias incident occurred, let’s use this opportunity to remember that demonizing those with whom we disagree poses a threat to our core values of learning, respect and the value of dialogue,” McInnis wrote in the email.
El Baroudy reposted McInnis’ email to her Instagram story and accused McInnis of victim blaming. “You can hear the Islamophobia in her words,” El Baroudy wrote.
UPD ultimately concluded that no bias crime had been committed, and no further actions were taken by the university administration or El Baroudy. However, the damage had already been done. Students have expressed disappointment in McInnis’ lack of response to the ongoing bloodshed in Gaza, and the widespread reports of Islamophobia on college campuses across the U.S.
On Oct. 10, McInnis uploaded an Instagram post condemning Hamas’ attacks and “other crimes committed in Israel.”
Yaseen Elsayed, a sophomore at SBU, commented on the post, “Does the university have anything to say about Israel cutting electricity, fuel, food and water to over 2 million civilians, 40% of whom are children, in the name of ‘fighting terrorism?’”
A few weeks later, Elsayed received a direct message on Instagram from an SBU alum threatening to send his future employers or potential graduate schools evidence of his support for Palestine.
“Just letting you know that wherever you gain employment in 2.5 years time, I will be reaching out with screenshots to evidence your support for Hamas and terrorism,” the alum wrote.
Speaking out in support of Palestine has cost people job offers. Moreover, many were flagged by organizations like Canary Mission — which posts peoples’ names and photos alongside accusations of anti-Semitism, often with little evidence other than ties to Students for Justice in Palestine chapters, or attendance at pro-Palestinian protests and rallies. Still, Elsayed says he’s not afraid to voice his discontent with Israel’s violence against Palestine. He wants his university’s administration to speak up.
“We’ve seen from the administration statements of solidarity for what happened on Oct. 7, but we haven’t heard anything about what’s happened since then,” Elsayed said. “I’m sure there are Palestinian students on campus who are in need of that solidarity right now.”
SB4Palestine, a coalition of SBU students that is not officially affiliated with the university, held an on-campus memorial on Nov. 20 for Palestinian martyrs killed by Israeli forces. The memorial’s intention was to provide students with the solidarity Elsayed spoke of, organizers said.
Iman Hayee, a senior at SBU and an organizer of SB4Palestine, said UPD officers were heard laughing and making jokes while supervising the memorial. Meanwhile, she saw students crying in fear for their family members, who are living in the Middle East and are threatened by the violence.
Coalition organizers say they’ve been followed and made to feel uncomfortable by UPD on several occasions. On Dec. 4, organizers held a demonstration during the last University Senate meeting of the year, held in the Wang Center Theater and broadcasted on Zoom. They interrupted the agenda and gave speeches that accused the State University of New York (SUNY) system of complicity in the face of genocide against Palestinian people. Zubair Kabir, a sophomore at SBU and organizer with the coalition, said he was followed by UPD even after being escorted out of the University Senate meeting.
“It’s clear that [UPD] are here because they’re obligated to, and don’t feel any need to protect our students,” Kabir said.
UPD has not responded to requests for comment at this time.
The coalition, which is on track to become a recognized club affiliated with the university by Spring 2024, published an open letter to McInnis via Instagram on Dec. 16. The letter urged her to call attention to Palestinian issues — especially amid the resignation of University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill, who faced pressure from donors and politicians who accused her of a tepid response to anti-Semitism on college campuses. The letter also targeted McInnis’ previous emails and cited their failure to “explicitly name the people currently facing genocide: Palestinians.”
“As Stony Brook celebrates the inauguration of the new Native American and Indigenous Peoples Studies minor, it fails to acknowledge the ethnic cleansing of Indigenous Palestinians from their land,” the letter reads.
SBU announced the launch of the minor program in an article published on Oct. 9, describing the curriculum as responsive to the “communities whose land the university occupies, and to the history of settler colonialism and Indigenous practices across the Americas and globally.”
Additionally, the coalition’s letter accuses the administration of trying to “police and silence” the organizers behind the SB4Palestine Instagram account. According to organizers, the administration initiated a UPD investigation into the account upon its inception, resulting in organizers clarifying in their bio that they are not affiliated with the university, and changing their username from “sbuforpalestine.”
“We actually got a [direct message] from one of the deans saying that we’re not allowed to use the name,” Hayee said. “So we had to do an entire meeting about that … which is a little insane if you ask me.”
Namal Fiaz, an organizer with the coalition, said a university administrator sent the account a direct message three days after it was created, urging them to promptly remove any association with the university.
The letter alleges multiple anti-Islamic hate crimes swept under the rug by administration, but does not specify which. It calls on McInnis to take up her responsibilities as the university’s president and to condemn the Israeli aggression against Palestine — a sentiment that multiple students have echoed.
Following the November shooting of three Palestinian college students in Vermont — which left one paralyzed — students say that Stony Brook administration and UPD have fostered a hostile environment for Arab and Muslim students, which has left them feeling unsafe.
Students at other colleges and universities are facing similar hostilities. At Harvard University, trucks brandishing the names and faces of pro-Palestine students labeled “Harvard’s Leading Antisemites” drove around campus. Columbia University, Brandeis University, George Washington University and several public schools across Florida have banned pro-Palestine groups altogether. In Florida, two of the largest universities in the state did not follow Gov. De Santis’ order to deactivate Students for Justice in Palestine groups.
“The least we can do is raise awareness,” Hayee said. “And historically, campuses have been a place of activism and solidarity with liberation movements all over the world … we can’t be complacent.”