Two weeks following the Feb. 8 protest against UC Irvine speaker and Israeli Ambassador, Michael Oren, the eleven students who were arrested for interrupting the speech still await possible punishment.
Immediately following the surprising protest and arrests, a video of the eleven students was quickly uploaded on YouTube. Natasha Aftandilians, a second-year political sciences major who was present at the protest, said that it was evident that the video was made by some people who had known previously about the eleven students’ plans before the event took place.
Regardless of how it was filmed, the video and the story behind it quickly became international news, appearing in publications ranging from the Los Angeles Times to al Jazeera, the leading non-government television network in the Middle East.
Students from different schools across the nation have changed their Facebook profile pictures to include a photo-shopped image of one of the UCI students being arrested by a UCI policeman with the words “Stand With the Eleven” written above the image.
As press grows, more and more pressure is placed on the shoulders of Chancellor Michael Drake, Vice Chancellor Manuel Gomez, and the office of Student Conduct, who hold the academic fates of the eight UCI students in their hands.
The UCI Muslim Student Union (MSU), which had been allegedly under consideration for investigation earlier this year by the FBI, is now facing investigation, according to Hadeer Soliman, a fourth-year Spanish major and public relations representative for the MSU, due to rumors that the protest was planned during MSU meeting time.
The eleven students are being represented by attorneys Reem Salahi and Carol Sobel.
“I don’t know how long it will take [with] a lot of different factors including specific allegations and evidence that the University will present,” Salahi said.
Last Wednesday, Feb. 17, Chancellor Drake released a message to the UCI community, revealing his feelings about the Oren incident and how he hopes to advance as a campus in the future.
“I am disappointed that some in our community seem more comfortable engaging in confrontation than collaboration, and in closing channels of communication rather than opening them,” Drake’s message said.
His issue was not with the eleven students’ opinion, but their medium of voicing their opinions.
Drake continued the letter, saying that he was gathering different student groups in planning a few events to help encourage more understanding among students. These events, he mentioned, will be taking place in the upcoming weeks, most likely in the same vein as UCI Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky’s “First Amendment in a Multicultural Society” lecture which took place on Feb. 11 in the UCI Cross-Cultural Center.
Ironically according to Soliman, the eleven students were not committing a crime against the first amendment, but rather, were victims of UCI not allowing them their own freedom of speech.
Furthermore, they believe that there exists somewhat of a double-standard within University policies.
“MSU is concerned with the selective enforcement of policies against both Muslim students and pro-Palestinian activists on campus,” said Soliman. “The most recent protest illustrates the heavy-handed tactics utilized by the university against individuals who exercised their protected freedom of speech. MSU is also concerned with the chilling effect this may have on students’ political speech of a particular view point.”
Soliman claimed that many Palestinian speakers were not given the same endorsement by the University.
Despite this accusation of a double-standard, the Orange County Register reports that UCI has even hired crisis counselor Alan Hilburg in order to promote the idea that the university values “people of all races and religions, civil discussion and free speech.”
The Register reports that UCI is also in the process of proposing an $8 million Center for Awareness, Reflection and Meditation to help promote civility on campus.
Calls and messages requesting a comment from Chancellor Drake and Gomez were redirected to media representative Cathy Lawhon, who did not respond with any press updates.