Four students were arrested after disrupting the planned showing of "American Sniper" Friday evening in the EMU Student Center Auditorium. The film had begun when protesters interrupted and continued after they left. The 10 p.m. showing was rescheduled.
Ahmed Abbas, earning his Ph.D. in psychology, Layali Alsadah, junior majoring in psychology, Jenna Hamed, senior majoring in apparel and textiles merchandise, and Sabreen Dari, junior majoring in psychology, worked with 35 other students to shut down the 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. showings of the Academy Award-winning film.
The protesters filed onto the stage under the screen and held up two signs. One read, “Is this your idea of dialogue?” and the other one had the definition of propaganda.
Hamed began speaking to the crowd about why the protesters where there.
“Do you want me to play a movie painting your people this way?” Hamed asked the crowd.
Members of the audience began yelling at the protesters, “Tell us after.”
Department of Public Safety officers were called to escort the students out. According to Sergeant Shana Thompson, four students were arrested for disturbing the peace. They were released 40 minutes later and no charges were filed.
“We are never allowed to challenge [administration]. When we do, we get arrested and we are taken in,” Abbas said. “That is the issue here that we have. Administration that says Campus Life is supposed to be about students [and students] have no right to challenge them in what we want and what we should be watching.”
Abbas said administration does not care about public safety.
“They don’t care about student dignity or respect,” Abbas said. “That is our mission. Moving forward from today in the weeks ahead we are going to be in meetings. This is a chance to get what students want.”
Student Body President Desmond Miller said rescheduling the movie was a collective decision between him, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Calvin Phillips, President Susan Martin and Gregg Costanzo, Campus Life coordinator of arts, entertainment and marketing.
“The conversation we had wanted to make sure student safety was at the forefront,” Miller said. “We wanted to make sure whatever happens, students would be safe. The second part of it, which is actually just as important as the first part, was making sure we have a very serious dialogue about the movie and the propaganda associated with this movie.”
Phillips said the showing has been postponed.
Abbas got on the stage, quieted the crowd and began speaking. He said when it comes to the Campus Life programming, there isn’t a discussion of how the programming will go.
He said when the movies "Tropic Thunder" and "Passion of the Christ" were showed, the black and Jewish communities, respectively, on campus questioned why the films were chosen.
“The reality is, this is about a process of not allowing cultural appropriation for the movies being allowed into the university,” Abbas said. “This is not about freedom of speech, this is not about freedom of expression, this is about pubic safety and people being respected with dignity. That’s the reality – that’s why we’re here. If you want to voice yourself, students shouldn't be protesting.”
Someone began playing music over the sound system and Abbas could not be heard over it.
Abbas said he told Sergeant Shana Thompson he wanted to talk to the crowd to deescalate the situation.
The students went back to the first floor of the Student Center in silence after the four students were released. They held a dialogue with students passing by about their cause.
Hamed said the way DPS acted was out of line and unfair.
Junior Kayla Harris, education major, was watching the movie when the protest started. She said her family is Muslim and she is supportive of the Muslim community. She said the way the protesters were going about sharing their message was negative.
“You can’t force your opinion down someone’s throat,” she said. “I don’t think people watching this movie are thinking negatively about Muslims – they just want to watch a movie.”
Freshman Briona Hagadorn, nursing student, was also watching the movie. She said she wanted to watch the movie to form her own opinion on it.
“I honestly think that what they’re doing is good,” Hagadorn said. “I am for ‘Muslim Lives Matter.’ All lives matter. I’m definitely for that. I saw on Yik Yak before I came that a lot of people where upset about this movie. I’ve never seen this movie so I came to see what this movie was about.”
Kalandria Robinson, director of academic and student affairs, coordinates the movies shown. She said they had promoted the showing for two months.
“I guess the only thing that I didn’t like was how it was orchestrated,” she said. “I’m more about the, if you’re gonna show your face, just show your face right away. It’s disruptive for the movie but everyone has an opinion and I believe that everyone’s voice should be heard, regardless of if it’s a silent protest or if it’s a spoken protest.”
According to Sergeant Thompson the students arrested are being referred to the office of Student Conduct and Community Standard for possible university sanctions.
Editor's Note: The above story has elicited numerous passionate responses from Echo readers. The editors encourage readers who would like to comment or expand upon their comments to send a Letter to the Editor for consideration for publication in the print and/or online versions of the Echo. Only letters signed with full names and verifiable contact info will be considered for publication. Your contact info will not be re-printed, only your real name with your letter. Send letters to: Editor@easternecho.com and include the words "Letter to the Editor" and the title of the article you are writing about in the subject line. Thank you.