Dozens of protesters gathered in front of UNC’s South Building on Wednesday afternoon in response to the U.S. Department of Education ordering the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies to revise its curriculum to retain federal Title VI funding.
The protest was organized by the group Students for Justice in Palestine, which began coordinating the event last Friday by creating flyers and posting on social media.
“We were outraged,” junior Aisha Jitan, a co-organizer, said. “We were really angry about what we read, especially given that we lost three Muslim people in our community not too long ago due to Islamophobia. Then after reading this and hearing this, we were just angry and said, 'We want better for our community, we want better for our campus culture,' which is why we were able to mobilize so quickly.”
The organizers named the event “Yalla: Decolonize this Place.”
Yalla — a word used colloquially in Arabic to mean “let’s go” — reflects the call to action of the protest. The name also symbolizes the group’s goal of intellectually restructuring the way people approach and understand the Middle East, Jitan said.
Meagon Shefka, a sophomore majoring in human development and family studies, attended the protest.
"I think it's rooted in bigotry and xenophobia, and I do not think the University, or America as a whole, should stand for that," Shefka said.
At the protest, several student speakers shared their personal experiences of identifying as Middle Eastern, Muslim and Arab in America. Some also talked about the negative stereotypes that were applied to them by other people due to their culture and appearance.
Rafel Al Ghrary, a first-year majoring in global studies, recounted the story of her younger brother being called a terrorist at age 7 by an older peer.