Faring the cold weather and snow-covered sidewalks, members of the Arab American Student Union and others demonstrated in front of the Faculty/Administration Building and throughout main campus Dec. 10, taking a stance against Wayne State’s decision to pull the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award.
“One, two, three, four, reinstate Thomas' award. Five, six, seven, eight, Zionism perpetuates hate,” the demonstrators chanted while marching with banners.
“The goal is to get the Helen Thomas name back on that award,” Ali F. Beydoun, WSU student and president of the AASU, said. “The Helen Thomas, in our opinion, made that award."
Tarek Baydoun, part of the ACLU Greater Detroit branch and vice president of the Arab American Political Action Committee, said that after the Congress of Arab American Organizations leaders met with Wayne State, they felt the decision was made due to financial pressure from donors.
“The impression they got was there were … pro-Israel donors that were either offended or displeased with the comments she made,” Baydoun said. “They’ve been working on this for a while trying to get the Helen Thomas award renamed. So this was viewed as an excuse.”
Baydoun went on to say that if the situation is not rectified, the union may call for students to boycott WSU.
“That is not on the block right now,” he said. “It is definitely to be considered. There’s probably over 2,000 Arab American and Muslim students on campus. But this isn’t an Arab American issue. I think everyone should be willing to say to WSU that if you’re not going to stand as an academic institution with academic freedom then maybe you’re not worthy of our support.”
Onlookers watched as the demonstrators marched with signs through the malls that intersect the main campus. Some students peeled back their window shades and watched with curiosity from their dorm rooms. Other picked up signs and joined them.
A petition was passed around to demonstrators. According to Ali Harb, WSU journalism student, the petition calls the university to repeal its decision.
“The goal is 1,000 signatures,” Harb said. “We’ll get all signatures and send it along with a letter to the Board of Governors and the president’s office.”
“We need to let the board of governors know that this issue is not an issue of whether you agree with Helen Thomas or not,” Baydoun said. “This issue is nothing less than this institutions legitimacy as a center for learning and debate. Their last statement said that they agree with free speech whether or not they agree with Helen Thomas, they weren’t going to strip the award.
“Whether or not this decision is reversed does not determine our success.”
At the end, demonstrators formed a circle in front of the F/AB and chanted, “Repeal your decision,” while pointing to the building where the university’s administration is located.