The students who participated in the protest of the movie “American Sniper” Friday night in the Student Center said the shutting down and postponement of the showing was not their original intent.
Four students were cuffed and detained after 40 students took the stage during the 8 p.m. showing of the movie with signs. The movie was stopped and Department of Public Safety officials were called by EMU staff, according to Geoff Larcom, executive director of media relations. Students were told to leave but refused at first.
Ahmed Abbas, in the clinical psychology Ph.D. program, was one of the students who was detained. He said before he was cuffed, one of the officers pulled out a taser.
The 8 p.m. showing continued after the protestors left and the 10 p.m. showing has been postponed. Campus Life does not have specific details on when the showing will happen.
“We talked to the administrators in charge,” said senior Jenna Hamed, who was one of the detained students. “We tried our best to handle this in a respectful manner where we’d be taken seriously, because that’s what we want. We want to be taken seriously by administration.”
Abbas said he had hoped they would be able to make a statement before the movie and talk to viewers after the movie at reserved tables in the Student Center.
“But to just have tables doesn’t make sense,” Abbas said. “People don’t come to watch a movie and read literature.”
Ahmed Abbas spoke to Gregg Costanzo, Campus Life coordinator of arts, entertainment and marketing, about the movie choice on the Wednesday before the showing.
“Ahmed was very clear to me and to others when he had conversations on Wednesday that he doesn’t want the movie canceled,” Costanzo said.
Costanzo said Campus Life agreed to provide the students with tables on the first floor of the Student Center where they could pass out literature to and hold a dialogue.
“I don’t think anyone is disagreeing with [students’] right to disagree,” Costanzo said. “If anything, it is a wonderful opportunity to have a conversation, to have dialogue.”
Abbas said he met with Dar Mayweather, the coordinator for the Center for Multicultural Affairs; Lucas Langdon, the director of Campus Life and Calvin Phillips, associate vice president of student affairs about making a statement.
“Leaving those meetings, there was an element of content knowing we had tried our best to do something about Friday, even though it was short notice,” Abbas said. “But at the same time, we are going to do something great for the future.”
He said a fifteen-minute statement was discussed. Ultimately, there was a verbal agreement that the students would have one minute to make a statement and invite the audience members to visit the tables on the first floor of the Student Center to talk about the movie with minority students.
“So once they watch the film, they can come out and we can tell them our stories so they can see both sides, but fairly,” said Hamed.
She said she wanted students to realize the movie “is art, to be sure, but it is overdramatized.”
Hamed said the students had wanted to “expose the other side.”
“The other side is the thoughts and feelings of minorities,” she said. “The voices of minorities.”
Abbas said upon Costanzo’s request, he texted Costanzo the statement he wanted to share with the audience about five minutes before the movie started. Costanzo read the statement before the movie started.
“There was never anything conclusive presented to me to have a final say on,” Costanzo said.
Costanzo said Campus Life put slides on the screen before the movie started titled, “Don’t just be a consumer of media, be a critical thinker,” that had tips on critical thinking.
Costanzo said the movie was chosen in December. “American Sniper” was released on January 16.
Abbas said he was told by administration featured movies must do well at the box office, bring a diverse crowd, and be nominated for prestigious awards.
“And [American Sniper] was, but that’s after the movie came out,” Abbas said. “The polling was [done] before the movie was even shown in theaters, so how would students be able to assess how this movie is good for our campus? They wouldn’t have.”
Costanzo said “American Sniper” has been advertised on the Campus Life website since January.
He said movies are chosen based on online polling. Students can vote for the movies they want to see on Campus Life’s Facebook and Twitter pages and on the my.emich announcement page from a list provided by Campus Life.
The polling takes place before the semester the movies will be shown starts. Costanzo said on average about 300 students participate.
Hamed said the controversy that surrounded the film was huge.
According to The Guardian, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee reported that anit-Arab and anti-Muslim threats tripled by “American Sniper’s” second week in theaters.
“I think with that if [Campus Life] would have thought about how the Muslim-Americans feel about that, they should have realized it would have been a slap in the face to us, basically,” Hamed said.
Costanzo said Campus Life is engaged with student input and what students want.
“Plus, even just from the standpoint of the market, if something we do is unpopular or students don’t attend it, we know we need to do something different,” Costanzo said.
According to EMU’s Institutional Profile, 28 percent of the campus population is made up of minority groups — black, international, Asian-American, Hispanic, and Native-American.
“Arabs aren’t even considered in the percentage,” Hamed said. “I think we’re considered white/Caucasian. That in itself makes us feel underrepresented because in the most basic form we’re not even being legitimized.”
Larcom said EMU is an “open and diverse community, with many perspectives and viewpoints.”
“We respect the right of our students to speak out on issues of importance to them, and encourage civil debate and discussion that promotes empathy and understanding,” Larcom said.
Larcom said students can report concerns to the Ombuds office and Student Government.
“The University takes all student concerns very seriously,” he said. “Discussions are under way as to the appropriate next steps, as well as their timing.”