SFSU President and Provost: Stop undermining Dr. Abdulhadi, Friends of AMED and Arab, Muslim and Palestinian Students

In February of 2020, SFSU President Lynn Mahoney met with a new group of SF City Muslims presumably to address endemic forms of Islamophobia. In this meeting, President Mahoney sought to enlist Muslim representatives in undermining the already constituted Friends of AMED (Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies), a broad-based body of community advocates, leaders and public intellectuals, who have been working closely and transparently in coordination with the Director and senior scholar of the AMED Studies Program, Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, Arab, Muslim and Palestinian student groups, and the SFSU Chapter of California Faculty Association.

President Mahoney and Provost Summit are now seeking to “formalize” a new working group that attempts to bring together Arab and Muslim students, faculty and community leaders with the SFSU administration to combat Islamophobia. However, there are glaring problems with the formation of the group, its purpose and its utility. For this reason, Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, Friends of AMED, and a number of Arab, Muslim and Palestinian student organizations at SFSU are refusing to participate in the meeting which they view as a dubious attempt to undermine the clear demands the AMED broad-based communities haves expressed time and again for nearly two decades.

These essential minimum demands outline concrete steps to addressing the perennial anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and Islamophobic hostility, attacks, and repression at SFSU. As we have long advocated, critical education is the key to challenging (stopping) racism, bigotry, and oppression in all of their forms. It is the role of AMED Studies to teach about Palestine, Arab and Muslim communities and how our collective struggles for justice are part and parcel of the struggles for justice by all marginalized and targeted peoples. This is a key reason why Dr. Abdulhadi and AMED Studies receive support from multiple and intersectional communities who work in alliance together. 

The creation of a new working group erases nearly 20 years of history of community advocacy and coordination with the SFSU administration. Throughout this history, leaders, activists and organizers–Arab, Muslim, Palestinian–and the broader AMED communities of justice have made clear the concrete steps that the SFSU administrators must take if they are genuine about their commitment to ending anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia and to stop silencing Palestine. This coordination has now spanned three administrations (2002-2021) and involved hundreds of community leaders, SFSU students, and dozens of community-based organizations, in numerous meetings with various SFSU administrations. 

In 2002, then SFSU President Robert Corrigan created a formal SFSU task force to address the hostile climate of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia. The task force was crystal clear that education was the key to combat racism and recommended the recruitment of a senior scholar in an “Arab and Islamic” Studies program as a first step. As an outcome of the Taskforce, SFSU hired Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi in 2006 to build the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies Program to be housed and become the fifth department in the College of Ethnic Studies.

In 2009, President Robert Corrigan, under external political pressure, retaliated against Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, AMED, the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA) over the selection of the keynote speaker at the second anniversary of the Edward Said Mural, Gaza, and Islamophobia at SFSU.  One component of the retaliation included the halt of AMED active searches for two tenure track faculty hires. The faculty lines have not been reinstated even though 11 years have passed. As a result, the development of AMED was institutionally stunted by SFSU. AMED remains the only program in the College of Ethnic Studies with one full-time faculty member, Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi. 

Since 2009, Palestinian/Arab/Muslim students, Dr. Abdulhadi, and the AMED program have fallen anew to vicious attacks and smear campaigns by Zionist and right-wing, white supremacist forces. These attacks have included death threats, lawsuits that attempt to quell free speech, doxxing and smear campaigns that have tarnished the reputation, safety and wellbeing of Dr. Abdulhadi and Palestinian/Arab/Muslim students. They have also undermined the intellectual and scholarly integrity of AMED.

The SFSU administration has time and again failed to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech, as well as the safety and wellbeing of its Arab/Muslim/Palestinian campus community, in effect generating a more hostile work and study environment. The consequences of all of this for SFSU as a community are quite damaging; the university remains under fierce public scrutiny by all those committed to social and racial justice for such behavior and is the subject of multiple lawsuits that have the backing of our communities and allies. 

In 2016, President Wong’s Administration convened meetings that also presumably aimed at confronting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. However, both a presidential task force and a working group convened by the Dean of Students failed to be inclusive of Dr. Abdulhadi and Friends of AMED. In protest, student groups and community members who were invited declined to participate and withdrew from those settings.   

In 2019, Dr. Abdulhadi, community leaders and students reconvened with the SFSU administration, optimistic that under the new leadership of President Lynn Mahoney things would change. In particular, we expected an end to President Wong’s pattern of hostility to AMED, Dr. Abdulhadi, and Arab, Muslim and Palestinian students, and the convening of exclusionary meetings and ad-hoc groups. In these meetings with Dr. Abdulhadi, students, and Friends of AMED, President Mahoney committed to doing what she could to protect/defend AMED, GUPS, MSA and MWSA and to reinstate the AMED hire lines through various means. Yet, attacks have continued, with the complicity of the SFSU administration, and the AMED hire lines have yet to be restored. 

Now, the SFSU administration is attempting to circumvent the clear demands made by students, faculty and community for two decades by creating a new working group composed of individuals who may be unaware of the 20 year long history that animates anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia at SFSU. 

The proposed meeting of Arab and Muslim faculty, student, and community members will undermine decades of campus organizing and a thriving Palestinian scholarship and advocacy. The creation of the new working group jeopardizes the tenacious dedication to the demands that have been central for the last two decades, in effect wiping the slate clean of SFSU’s systemic history of harassment of the AMED program, its director Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, and the students. As we all know, conflict resolution cannot be achieved without a rigorous appraisal of history, an ethical commitment to centering truth and dedication to addressing systemic problems with systemic solutions. Such a process must center justice, freedom and rights for the oppressed. 

Our communities have made clear that what we need from SFSU is the following: 

  1. To restore the AMED Studies tenure track faculty lines and allocate sufficient resources to the AMED Studies program to develop and thrive as a critical scholarly and pedagogical department. 
  2. To stop the undermining and harassment of Dr. Abdulhadi and the AMED Studies program, and Arab and Muslim faculty, lecturers, and students. 
  3. To protect Arab/Muslim/Palestinian faculty and students’ rights to academic freedom, freedom of speech, and to defend and protect them when they are subjected to Zionist, Islamophobic and right-wing white supremacist attacks and smear campaigns. 
  4. To recognize AMED Studies as the focal point to address issues concerning the Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian communities on campus. 

Our communities have time and again explained the simple, concrete steps that must be taken to address Islamophobia and anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian racism. Any other maneuvers taken by the SFSU administration are not only not asked for but directly undermine the principles of self-determination in organizing, advocacy and demands of Palestinian, Arab, Muslim communities and their allies who have invested so much in SFSU, AMED Studies, GUPS, MSA, MWSA and the broader campus community. Concrete institutional change is what has been demanded all along and what is still sorely needed today. We do not need symbolic gestures, lip service statements or new formations that bank on an institutional erasure as has been the problem at SFSU all along.

For more immediate context please refer to a select exert of our communication with the university here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BEsxBQsQVs_qkH4z-dXRqS1ZvUK_Vr_sQV_AMVIIWuU/edit?usp=sharing