Opinion: Casualties of Grinnell’s Decorative Allyship

When the first travel ban was instituted, President Kington sent an email to the entire campus and a second email to the impacted students. In addition, countless faculty and staff members reached out and, of course, there was that incredibly touching video that reminded international students that they are welcome here. I was moved and humbled by the support we’ve received. It was a reminder that with all its flaws, the College is still a welcoming environment.

So, you can imagine my shock when an S&B reporter approached me just a few weeks later asking me how I felt about the move of the CRSSJ and the fact that the new building wouldn’t have a Muslim prayer room. The CRSSJ is going to move to make room for the construction of a new admissions building. It will move to the blue ranch house on 8th Ave, which as it stands now, would not have a space for a Muslim prayer room. And for a while there were talks about renovating a bathroom for Lord Ganesha.

Most of our Hindu and Muslim students are international students who already feel targeted in this current hostile political climate. And it is deeply ironic that a new admissions building is being built to make prospective students feel welcome when they visit, but to build it they are getting rid of a space that makes many current students feel welcome.

We have been trying to meet with the administration to voice our concerns. A week ago, a student government cabinet member who met with Vice President for Finance and Treasurer of the College Kate Walker reached out and assured us that the administration in no way intended to make Muslim and Hindu students feel unwelcome. Although we appreciate the message, the fact that they did not consider the lack of adequate space for Muslim and Hindu students in the first place is not reassuring. On the contrary, it highlights that providing a prayer space for Muslim students wasn’t a priority for them. As for good intentions, well, that matters little.

In addition, the SGA member mentioned that the blue house is a temporary house for CRSSJ, but if they invest resources in it, it would become a long-term home for the CRSSJ. This means that Muslim students are indirectly forced to choose between having a prayer room now and potentially jeopardize the possibility of the CRSSJ moving into Mears Cottage in the future, or giving up their prayer space now for the hope that they would move to a better house in few years. It is an implicit threat and a position which they shouldn’t be forced into.

It is disappointing that we are still fighting for religious recognition on this campus. It is disappointing to explain to administrators why considering to house a God in an old bathroom, even if renovated, is offensive. It is disappointing that international students gain recognition on this campus only when discussing percentages, displaying flags or consuming our food and culture as entertainment. It is disappointing that we must cite incidents of hate crimes and Islamophobia to legitimize our right to a prayer space.

The College needs to decide: is it going to be intentional about its support for international and students of color, or is it going to continue with the current decorative  allyship? I am tired of administration that cries with me when Muslims are banned, but takes away our prayer space. In our meeting with the President tomorrow, I hope he offers us more than just a sympathetic ear; we need concrete action.

-Farah Omer ’19