In the newly formed End Hate Speech at UMD coalition's first public forum, student members and supporters gathered to discuss their next course of action to solicit an apology from The Diamondback's advertising department for publishing a controversial ad.
After the advertisement called "You deserve a factual look at … Muslim Arab Anti-Semitism" for the Facts and Logic About the Middle East organization ran on page three of the paper's Oct. 19 edition, students from 24 groups mobilized to try to ensure a similar ad would not appear in print again. Many of the 100 students in McKeldin Library's special events room said The Diamondback acted unethically — and several said students should consider boycotting the paper.
"What we're trying to show The Diamondback is its readership does not take lightly to them selling out on the values this university stands for," said junior bioengineering major Osama Eshera, who is a Diamondback columnist.
In a Nov. 7 meeting with two members of the coalition, Michael Fribush, general manager of Maryland Media Inc. — the private company that owns The Diamondback — said while MMI will not apologize for the ad, it will allow the coalition to publish a guest letter in the paper or provide space for the coalition to publish a rebuttal advertisement free of charge, which the company has never done.
The forum's three panelists from the coalition — public policy graduate student Alejandro Beutel; Eshera, vice president of the university's Muslim Student Association; and Rachel Mayer, co-president of this university's chapter of J Street U — said this was not enough: Students should demand similar ads no longer be run in the paper. Others said students should consider refusing to read The Diamondback to decrease its readership, signaling that "engaging in hate speech is not only morally questionable, it's bad business," said Beutel.
While Fribush declined to comment on that potential course of action, he said in an interview last night that the paper acted legally. Each ad goes through a vetting process to decide if it should run in the paper. Fribush did not attend the meeting, but MMI's advertising Manager Chelsea Madden was at the forum.
"The purpose of the newspaper is to represent everyone's point of view," Fribush said. "We don't print every ad that comes in, but there are plenty of people that are for or against different ads that run in the newspaper."
Several students said printing the ad was more of an issue of morality than legality, and senior economics major Janine Jaouni said it felt like a personal attack.
"We pride ourselves as a diverse university, and [the ad] makes me feel uncomfortable on campus," said Jaouni, a board member of this university's branch of Students for Justice in Palestine. "People who already have unpleasant attitudes on Palestinians and Arabs will have those feelings amplified."
However, several students — such as sophomore civil engineering major Omar Abbasi — said he'd experienced a positive dialogue because of the FLAME ad. When he was hosting a table outside Stamp Student Union, a student said he had read the ad and wanted to learn the truth about Islam.
"I thought, ‘He's not the only person who's had that thought in his mind,'" Abbasi said. "Our duty as people who do know what is right is we need to educate them and really let them know."
Dina Ibrahim, president of Students for Justice in Palestine and the event's moderator, also presented a video in which about a dozen students condemned the ad and The Diamondback for publishing it. However, Ibrahim said she interviewed other students who were not featured in the video who said they were apathetic.
Student Government Association letters and sciences legislator Zane Adoum said the coalition should foster interfaith conversations around the campus and that solely targeting this specific ad was not productive.
"Asking for an apology is good but at the end of the day, The Diamondback is doing their job. They're existing," said junior communication major Adoum. "With regards to us, can we exist after this discussion?"
Several students — such as junior government and politics major Salimatu Jalloh — said in order to form a viable solution, End Hate Speech at UMD must broaden its scope.
"I can't help but feel once … The Diamondback apologizes, the sensationalism will be over and everyone will move on."