Column: Protect student rights

Students on this campus feel threatened. Civil liberties such as the right to privacy and free speech are at stake – and we have the chance to do something about it. At 9 p.m. Tuesday, March 30, the Student Association Senate will vote on a resolution seeking to protect the rights of all students on this campus by expressing concerns in light of civil liberties restrictions in the USA PATRIOT Act.

The USA PATRIOT Act, a piece of legislation passed without adequate debate in the United States Senate just days after September 11, 2001, curtails a number of constitutional rights for citizens and non-citizens alike. It also has a very specific effect on the rights and freedoms of all university students. According to the act, the government can label our student organizations as “terrorists” even if they work on unrelated issues, like being anti-war or anti-discrimination. The government can seize our student records and collect information on what books we check out of the library, what we study and what we purchase from the school bookstore. It can search our dorm rooms, apartments and homes without our knowledge; track e-mail and Internet activity with no probable cause; and monitor the meetings of any religious or political groups.

Now, I am no conspiracy theorist. I don’t think Big Brother is out to get me. But I do care passionately about how other students, specifically those who are Arab, Muslim or of South Asian descent, are made to feel genuinely threatened in their everyday lives as a result of the PATRIOT Act. I care passionately about my rights to read, think, write and advocate as I please without fear of being labeled a terrorist. Because of the PATRIOT Act, anti-discrimination and anti-war groups across the country are being labeled as “terrorist” organizations. Muslims are afraid to come forward against this legislation for fear of their homes being raided or their academic careers and professions being jeopardized. These are not abstract concoctions. These are people being scared to exercise their constitutional enumerated rights.

Being a Jewish student with pale skin and freckles, I don’t think of myself as a strong candidate for incarceration as a terrorist. But I don’t want the last name and skin color of any person to cause so great a threat that he or she cannot feel at home at this university. This is not a political issue to me; this is an issue about protecting the rights of all students to learn in a school where they can feel comfortable to attend meetings and observe religious practices as they see fit. As a member of the Jewish Progressive Political Association and Hillel’s Immigrant Rights Advocacy intern, I am working with groups including Islamic Alliance for Justice, Amnesty International and Students for Peace and Justice in a coalition against the USA PATRIOT Act and in favor of student and University-wide support for securing the freedoms of all students, citizens and non-citizens of this community. But we cannot do this alone.

This cause demands nonpartisan, non-discriminatory cooperation from the SA Senate. The GW student body can make a real difference by joining the 20 university student bodies, 275 cities and communities, and three states that have passed resolutions just like the one going before the SA Senate floor Tuesday. If the entire city of New York and Los Angeles can quell individual politics long enough to pass these resolutions, then for heaven’s sake, we can, too.

We need you to contact your student senators, come to this meeting and sign up for public comment, and tell the SA that you support this legislation. For the full text of the resolution, go to http://www.gwu.edu/~iaj/petition.

-The writer, a junior majoring in English, is a member of the GW Coalition against the USA PATRIOT Act.

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