Content warning: genocide, violence, Islamophobia and religious discrimination
Throughout the month of February 2021, the Illinois Tech Muslim Students Association (MSA) planned to partner with the Howard University Muslim Students Organization to host an event to raise awareness about the Uyghur genocide in China. The event was called “Uyghur Genocide: What Can You Do To Support?” and featured two prominent and well-respected guest speakers: Arslan Hidayat, who is an Australian Uyghur rights activist and General Secretary of the Uyghur Revival Association, and Subboor Ahmad, a Muslim theological public speaker, writer, and debater. The event was scheduled to take place on Friday, February 19, at 3 p.m. CST.
On the evening of Monday, February 15, 2021, the MSA sent out an email to several of Illinois Tech’s faculty and departments, asking them to attend the event and share and promote it with their students. Less than an hour later, the MSA received a reply from a Phillip Nash, a recently retired professor of the Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering department:
“Take me off your list. I do not approve of your support of terrorists. Using the word genocide when the population is increasing is an insult to Jews and the indigenous people of North America who suffered real genocide.
Not only was Nash’s response blatantly ignorant and bigoted, but also factually incorrect. In January 2021, the State Department declared that the Chinese government’s actions in the northwest region of Xinjiang against the Uyghur people and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities constitute both crimes against humanity and genocide. While the situation is only now being widely publicized, the abuse has been long-standing. Xinjiang, officially the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), was once an independent country known as the East Turkestan Republic. After 9/11 and the U.S. “War on Terror,” China’s policies in Xinjiang shifted dramatically. The Chinese government claimed that the predominantly Muslim population of Xinjiang posed an extremist threat and began implementing forced assimilation tactics to try to eradicate the Uyghur culture. In 2009, wide-scale civilian protests and demonstrations erupted in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. Post-2009, China only intensified its ethnic cleansing efforts. News of forced concentration camps emerged between 2016 to 2017. Reports of atrocities such as forced sterilization, sexual violence, and mass imprisonment continue to be released.
More information on the current situation and history of the Uyghur genocide and Xinjiang conflict can be found in a list of resources and links at the end of this article, including a recently-written TechNews article by Quinn Castaneda from last September.
Following Nash’s response, the MSA sent out a screenshot of the exchange and an open letter to the Illinois Tech community calling for the university to take action about Nash’s Islamophobic language. The letter stated that they are “appalled by this hateful email and cannot believe that such a faculty member was hired.” The letter and screenshot was shared widely among Illinois Tech students and student orgs on several social media platforms.
The next day, Illinois Tech President Alan Cramb and Provost Peter Kilpatrick emailed out a statement condemning Nash’s disrespectful statement. “We need to interact with mutual respect–showing a willingness to listen to other points of view, not shutting them down–and to engage in a civil manner without inflammatory language,” the statement included. The same day that the email was sent out, the MSA executive board was called to a meeting with President Cramb and Provost Kilpatrick, along with the Illinois Tech administration and several faculty and alumni. In the meeting a concern was expressed that some of the university faculty may have discriminatory bias towards certain groups of students. It was stated by Provost Kilpatrick that diversity training is being implemented in the near future.
On Wednesday, the day after the meeting, the MSA sent out a follow-up public statement thanking the Illinois Tech community for their support, and also encouraging minority students to inquire about the diversity training to see if their needs are being met. Earlier on that same day, Illinois Tech Title IX Coordinator Virginia Foster had also sent out an email with a link to an anonymous incident report form on the Illinois Tech website.
The Uyghur Genocide Awareness event took place two days later on Friday, as planned. Over 95 people were present, not from just Illinois Tech and Howard University, but from many places across the world, tuning in from many time zones. President Cramb, Provost Kilpatrick, Dean of Students Katherine Stetz, and many of Illinois Tech’s faculty and administration were present and actively participated in the event.
The Uyghur genocide is real. To learn more about the Uyghur genocide, please check out the linked resources. Visit uhrp.org to learn what you can do to help.
Citations and resources:
MSA’s open letters on Instagram: @iitmsa
Anonymous incident report form: iit.edu/incidentreport
Resources to Support Uyghurs: https://bit.ly/3sbh2N6
Follow Arslan Hidayat on Twitter: @arslan_hidayat
Follow Subboor Ahmad on Twitter: @subboor18
News coverage and articles on the Uyghur genocide: