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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Online controversy provokes intense debate

Published: January 16, 2015
Section: Front Page, News

In the wake of the controversy sparked by the tweets of student Khadijah Lynch ’16 published by Daniel Mael ’15 on Dec. 20 to conservative news website Truth Revolt over winter break, the safety of students and the nature of race relations on campus have surged to the forefront of campus discussions.

Lynch, who was attacked for her allegedly insensitive tweets following the December murders of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, was the target of multiple death threats and demands for expulsion. These comments stemmed from her fellow students, alumni and university parents, as well as external parties.

Mael’s article, which has garnered over 87,000 likes on Facebook alone, published tweets from Lynch’s personal Twitter account, which included statements such as, “I have no sympathy for the NYPD officers who were murdered today.” The tweets have since been deleted, and Lynch’s account has been made private. Neither Lynch nor Mael responded to requests for comment.

Following the article’s publication, a public Facebook group titled “Expel Khadijah Lynch from Brandeis” was created with the intent of demanding Lynch’s expulsion from the university, although it has since been removed. The group, whose stated purpose was “to get this woman expelled from Brandeis and exposed for the racist that she is,” featured alumni and parents but was created by individuals not affiliated with Brandeis.

In light of the overwhelming harassment and threats stemming from external parties, as particularly evidenced on the public Facebook page, a multitude of Brandeis students expressed their solidarity with Lynch. Using the hashtag #IStandWithKhadijah, students affirmed their support of Lynch and her right to free speech, while encouraging the protection of the student body from non-affiliated parties. A similar hashtag, #IStandWithMael, was created in response to similar threats made toward him, both violent and threats perceived to be repressing Mael’s free speech.

As reported in a statement released by Chad Williams, chair of the African and Afro-American Studies Department, Lynch willingly offered her resignation from the position of undergraduate departmental representative. “The comments of Ms. Lynch, made through her own personal Twitter account, do not reflect the views of AAAS as a department,” wrote Williams.

Williams’ letter also addressed the threats made to Lynch’s physical safety. “The comments expressed by Ms. Lynch in no way excuse those made in response to her tweets, many of which have been horrifically racist, sexist, Islamophobic and threatening physical violence,” Williams said. “These appalling comments should be resoundingly condemned with even greater passion.”

In an email sent to the Brandeis community on Dec. 22, signed by President of the Student Union Sneha Walia ’15, Chief of Staff Flora Wang ’15, Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees Mohamed Sidique ’15 and Junior Representative to the Board of Trustees Grady Ward ’16, the need to uphold the safety of the student body and the right to free speech were affirmed to be of utmost priority.

“Whether we agree or disagree with the opinions recently voiced by our peer, we will fight to the end of our days here to protect her right to say them without being threatened physically or harassed by calls for her expulsion,” an official statement from the Student Union wrote.

On Dec. 29, President Frederick M. Lawrence iterated a similar need to ensure student safety in an email addressed to the Brandeis Community. “We will defend the free expression rights of all students in this debate,” Lawrence wrote. “I [also] join those who have condemned any lack of sympathy with these officers and with those who mourn their murder.”

Lawrence further announced his support of student efforts to transition the heated conversation away from social media and toward respectful, face-to-face dialogue.

In an interview with The Brandeis Hoot, Walia revealed, “The Facebook page was horrifying,” but elaborated on a positive note by stating, “I think this campus was really good at rallying around the idea that students shouldn’t be attacked by external forces.” Addressing the potential implications of using social media, she stated, “Everyone has a responsibility to exercise their personal judgment on social media. It is not my job or anyone else’s to censor it.”

Walia also stressed her hope that in the future, students will be more inclined toward respectful debate and dialogue. “I hope our community feels pervasive enough that people feel comfortable having those conversations with peers,” Walia said. “I appreciate that our campus community will hopefully empower students to address one another personally and respectfully when an issue arises.”