Cupcake Wars: Students walk out on West

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Cupcake Wars: Students walk out on West

Michelle Peltier

Michelle Peltier

Michelle Peltier

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The floor seats in the Center for Global Citizenship (CGC) were brimming with white. If someone had walked in unaware of the controversy that surrounded Allen West’s appearance on SLU’s campus, the hint of it was there in the audience, dressed row after row in a uniform of white shirts.

“If someone were to directly insult your religion, church, and the entire population of individuals who believe what you believe, would you stay quiet?” said Sheena Mohammed, MLK Scholar and member of the SLU Muslim Student Association (MSA).

Students organized a protest last Thursday night in response to West classifying SLU MSA as a “stealth jihad radical Islamic campus organization” on his blog. The protest consisted of a walkout, a charitable cupcake sale, and a group of Muslim students who stayed until West’s talk let out, hoping to speak with audience members about the realities of Islam.

Protesters arrived early to fill the floor seats and much of the higher seating for West’s speech. Just before he was introduced, representatives of the College Republicans announced that they were aware of the plan to walk out of the event. The group challenged those who might disagree with West to stay instead and hear what he had to say, stating that a walkout would be disrespectful toward West, toward inclusion of conservative ideas and toward freedom of speech. After West was introduced and came onstage, protestors quietly stood and walked outside, row by row.

“We decided to peacefully walk out because we weren’t trying to disrespect Allen West as a person, especially since he was a lieutenant colonel,” Mohammed said. “We were protesting against the hate speech that he and his supporters were using. The night may have been different if Allen West and his supporters were willing to have a dialogue.”

“We wanted to show others what Muslims are truly like: peaceful,” said Maariya Ahmed, co-president of MSA. “Islam is a religion of peace, and we wanted to portray that in our protest by silently walking out.”

Outside, students marched to the Clock Tower, where they were thanked by several representatives of MSA for coming out to show support and solidarity. A smaller group stayed outside the CGC to wait for the event to let out. They held signs that read “Ask a Muslim,” hoping to speak with those who had attended West’s talk. As the crowd began to file out, they handed out informative brochures and snacks to the audience members.

“We stood outside the CGC for hours so that those who wanted to speak with us about Islam or had any questions could approach us,” Ahmed said. “We are open to different ideas and the hard topics, but the remarks made towards MSA were simply bigoted and false.”

The walkout portion of the protest was accompanied by “Cupcakes Against Hate,” a cupcake sale in response to a post West wrote on his blog. The post referred to SLU students as “little cupcakes [who] ask for a ‘safe space’ where they don’t have to hear opposing views.” According to the post, West felt that his freedom of speech was being encroached upon when he was asked by a University administrator to refrain from using the phrase “radical Islam.”

“Rather than be ashamed of being called cupcakes, the students decided to embrace their values and demonstrate their solidarity with the Muslim Student Association,” said Samantha Kiss, member of Leadership For Social Change.

According to Kiss, the sale was brought together by the combined efforts of MSA, Leadership For Social Change Learning Community, and Free To {Be}.

The cupcake sale generated a profit of over $2,000 to be donated to the Immigrant & Refugee Women’s Program of St. Louis.

“By selling cupcakes and donating the money to the Syrian refugee crisis, we showed that, no matter what, we will always stay true to what our religion teaches: peace and support for others,” Mohammed said. “One of the 5 pillars of Islam is give charity. We accomplished this by selling cupcakes while also breaking down the idea that we would be mad that he called us ‘a bunch of cupcakes.’”

Some have been critical of the protest as disrespectful or in opposition to free speech. SLU’s Facebook page received a swell of one-star reviews in the wake of the demonstration.

“You cupcakes are weak and worthless and really stupid. This doesn’t prove anything except you believe in silencing somebody who would dare to have a different opinion than yourself,” said one reviewer. “You are a perfect example of what’s wrong in this country today.”

Students who helped to organize the protest were aware of the pushback but saw the issue of freedom of speech differently.

“The walk-out was orchestrated not to demonstrate intolerance of a conservative speaker events on campus, but rather to demonstrate intolerance of hate speech,” said Kiss.

“West was tipped ahead of time and found out the details of the protest, so he tried to paint the MSA and other students as intolerant, uneducated, anti-conservative students.”