An open letter to Allen West

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Dear Lt. Col. Allen West,

As you know, on Sept. 29, Saint Louis University students flooded the auditorium—the  same auditorium where Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about civil rights and race relations almost 52 years ago. The Center for Global Citizenship was a sea of white, as students held a peaceful walk-out protest in white shirts based off of the comments you made earlier in the week about our fellow peers and friends. For us, this was not acceptable.

You claimed that SLU was censoring your views while stripping you of your First Amendment right: free speech. To counteract this, you claimed SLU students were “little cupcakes”–whatever that means. What was even more disgraceful was how you addressed a group of students of whom you have never met, our Muslim Student Alliance, as a “stealth jihad radical Islamic campus organization… an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Unacceptable.

Before you entered the stage, the woman that introduced you mentioned the Oath of Inclusion. She explained that we were being shameful because we were going against the Oath by not keeping our minds open—that we were being “intolerant” of your views—when the exact reason we were in that room was because there was a group at SLU who was being discriminated against, which is the entire opposite of the Oath. Discrimination is the reason the Oath was formed, and any student, alumnus or staff member would know that.

While we left the room, peacefully, you were discussing Syrian refugees. At the exact moment I silently walked by you, you said “I guess you don’t care about Syrian refugees.” Well, now that would not make sense, since right outside the door were SLU students with cupcakes ($1 suggested donation). The revenue is all going to Syrian refugees, which you know, because following the previous comment about refugees, you exclaimed that you had a donation as you held out a $20 bill.

Now, all of these aspects mixed together may seem like a recipe for a disaster, but I am actually here to thank you. Thank you for creating an extremely powerful night that will forever be in our minds. Thank you for creating a community closeness that I—along with other students and staff—have never felt before. Together, we sat in peace as we were ridiculed by others and yelled at by the crowd. In a recent video, a woman says, “Get out of here, assholes,” and that is just what we did. Together, we left.

As we left, a member of the MSA told us, “It’s okay, it’s okay… it’s over now.” Then, the president and other members of the MSA personally shook hands and thanked every person wearing white. Fifty-two years after MLK spoke in that same room, one would hope to see change in America’s race relations. Sadly, as seen tonight, this is not a reality. People are still being profiled for having darker skin and for being part of a religion that is not fully understood in America. As your opener said to us, if you believe in “diversity, stability and open discourse,” allow us to peacefully show you how we feel about your views. Allow us to have our own beliefs, and hear us out without being “intolerant.”

Post speech, the students in white met outside of the CGC. The array of students from different backgrounds all coming together was extremely refreshing after enduring the hate we sat through prior. We made our way down to Saint Louis University’s landmark, the Clock Tower, behind a white banner that said, “Free speech does not equal hate speech.” We piled on the steps as the MSA presidents spoke to us. Co-president of the MSA, Maariya Ahmed, thanked us and told us that “the amount of love we have here is greater than the hate in there.” A speech has never been more simple, more true or more emotional.

Since I thanked you, Lt. Col. Allen West, I also want to thank the MSA for orchestrating such a compelling protest. Although hate was being brought to the campus, you drove the student body to combat that with peace and love. Also, I want to show gratitude to students who came in white to send a message to West; Saint Louis University does not tolerate those who denounce our peers. We came together to counter hate, as so many have and so many will. As Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. rightfully said in our very own Center for Global Citizenship so many years ago, “We have come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way to go before this problem is solved.”

Peace, love, more,

A Liberal Cupcake

Maggie Cipriano