Palestinian and Muslim students express safety concerns after man shoots Palestinian students in Vermont
Three Palestinian college students were shot in Vermont last week, amplifying fear and concerns among students on campus.
Ellie Park, Photography Editor
After three Palestinian college students were shot in Vermont last week, Palestinian students and supporters at all eight Ivy League institutions have expressed growing concerns for their safety and a need for increased protection from their universities.
The three victims of the shooting include Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmed, who are students at Brown University in Rhode Island, Haverford College in Pennsylvania and Trinity College in Connecticut, respectively. The suspected shooter, Jason J. Eaton, was charged with three counts of attempted murder, pled not guilty and was ordered by a judge to remain held without bond.
Student groups at all eight Ivy League universities — known collectively as the coalition of Ivy League students for Palestine — called on students to wear clothing with the colors of the Palestinian flag and keffiyehs, a scarf worn throughout the Middle East that has increasingly become a symbol of Palestinian identity and resistance — all week following the shooting. Two of the three victims in Vermont were wearing keffiyehs when shot; one of the victims said they were conversing in a mix of Arabic and English when attacked. Police have said that investigators are treating the shooting as a hate-motivated crime. The U.S. Department of Justice is also investigating the shooting.
In a joint Nov. 26 Instagram post between Brown’s Students for Justice in Palestine and Yalies4Palestine, the groups wrote that the coalition of Ivy League students for Palestine is seeking to “reaffirm” the call to their respective administrators to take action against “anti-Palestinian racism.”
“Three visibly Palestinian students were shot in Vermont last weekend,” Yalies4Palestine wrote in a Nov. 27 statement to the News. “In the past few weeks at Yale, we witnessed doxxing trucks and hate speech calling for the death of Palestine in the residential colleges. Our universities are deeply unsafe for Palestinians and students in solidarity with Palestine—especially for our Black, brown, and Muslim classmates. This has been obvious to us all along; it is time that our administration guarantees our safety before more students are targeted.”
Abdalhamid was shot in the glute, and Ahmed was shot in the chest. Awartani was shot in the spine and is paralyzed from the mid-torso downward according to his mother, as NBC News reported, and it remains unclear whether he will be able to walk again. Both Awartani and Ahmed are still being treated at the UVM Medical Facility, where they are reported to be in stable condition, as of the morning of Nov. 30.
The shooting comes amid rising tensions on college campuses, including rising Islamophobic and antisemitic incidents. Per a report by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, antisemitic incidents reported nationwide jumped by 388 percent between Oct. 7 and Oct. 23 compared to last year. According to a report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the organization received 216 percent more reports of Islamophobia and anti-Arab incidents between Oct. 7 and Nov. 4 than it did last year.
“At this time, quite honestly I feel like no Palestinian is safe anywhere. So it’s really frightening. It’s really traumatizing,” Abdalhamid’s mother told ABC News. She also spoke out against what she called “dehumanizing” rhetoric about Palestinians in the United States.
At Yale, before Thanksgiving break, a “doxxing truck” with billboards displaying the names and faces of Yale students — mostly of color — under the title “Yale’s Leading Antisemites” arrived, later showing both Harvard and Yale students on the day of the Yale-Harvard football game. Doxxing trucks also made visits to both Columbia University and Harvard University, among other schools.
An undergraduate at Yale wrote anti-Palestine messages on a whiteboard in a Grace Hopper College entryway, including one declaring “Death to Palestine.” Head of Hopper College Julia Adams affirmed that “academic freedom and the expression of views and dissent are rightly protected.”
“The shooting of three Palestinian university students last weekend in Vermont was horrifying – but not shocking,” Imam Omer Bajwa, director of Muslim life in the Chaplain’s Office, wrote in an email to the News. “It is part of a growing pattern of anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and Islamophobic rhetoric and violence across the country.”
Bajwa said that many student leaders and activists have warned that violence of this kind was “inevitable” due to “prejudiced rhetoric” amplified in the media.
He stated that as the director of Muslim life at Yale, his role is to provide support to Muslim students, adding that “the demand [for support] is greater these days.”
Bajwa noted that his office is in regular conversation with senior administration about how to best support Muslim communities at Yale.
“To be honest, students are deeply concerned,” Bajwa wrote to the News. “This act of violence comes on the back of the ‘doxxing’ truck which brought its toxic message of hate to campus during the Harvard-Yale game. Students are rightfully concerned about being targeted. All students deserve safety and security as a basic right on campus. All students deserve freedom from harassment.”
In a recent Instagram post, the Muslim Students Association wrote that Islamophobia continues to “haunt” the Muslim community at Yale and wrote that since Oct. 7, the date of Hamas’ attack on Israel, there has been a rise in “verbal harassment, doxxing, stalking and repression” toward Muslim and Arab students.
The group also called on Yale to explicitly denounce the message written in the Grace Hopper entryway.
“This creates a campus culture in which Muslim students do not feel safe, seen, or heard,” Yale’s MSA wrote in their Instagram post.
Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis said that the Yale Police Department is working to ensure there is “good security” on campus amid rising student safety concerns and said he is “horrified” by the recent Islamaphobic violence.
He recommended that if people on campus have security concerns, they should reach out to their residential college deans, their heads of college, the director of Muslim life in the Chaplain’s Office or the staff at the Asian American Cultural Center, which has peer liaisons and dedicated spaces for Middle Eastern and North African, or MENA, students.
“It’s just such a horrible thing and my sympathies go out, of course, to the victims themselves and the families of the victims,” Lewis told the News. “I also can only imagine that for many Muslim students or Middle Eastern Arab students, this would be a time of a lot of fear … it is very important to us that our students of all backgrounds feel safe to study on campus.”