San Diego State officials agree to review free-speech policies after outcry over anti-Muslim fliers

San Diego State students, upset at the university president's response to recent anti-Muslim fliers, protest on campus last week.
(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

After a protest over posters on campus that linked Muslim students to terrorism, San Diego State University President Elliot Hirshman on Monday agreed that school policies should be reviewed to ensure a balance between free speech and safety.

But some students who met with Hirshman said they were disappointed that he has not strongly condemned the fliers.

“It was better than expected, but not as good as we hoped,” said Osama Alkhawaja, president of Students for Justice in Palestine at SDSU.


The meeting followed an incident last week in which a group of students surrounded Hirshman’s car for about two hours. They dispersed only after he apologized for anything he may have said regarding the posters that upset or hurt people.

The fliers, which appeared on campus two weeks ago, named seven San Diego State students, including Alkhawaja, and said they had “allied themselves with Palestinian terrorists to perpetrate” Jewish hatred on campus.

The posters also identified the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement — aimed at pushing universities to divest from Israel — as “a Hamas-inspired genocidal campaign to destroy Israel, the world’s only Jewish state,” and listed the website of the Los Angeles-based David Horowitz Freedom Center. Horowitz is a conservative activist.

Last week, Hirshman and San Diego State Vice President of Student Affairs Eric Rivera issued a statement saying that although the university supported free speech, they personally questioned whether Horowitz’s tactic could discourage students from taking part in political discussions.

Hirshman and other administrators met Monday with student government representatives and members of the Muslim Student Assn. and Students for Justice in Palestine.

After the meeting, the university issued a statement that read in part: “The parties have agreed that … they will undertake a review of university policies to ensure we are balancing freedom of expression and protection from harassment.


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“We concluded by agreeing that in cases where racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia and all forms of bigotry result, we abhor the content of such expressions, even as we recognize the protected status of these expressions. Finally, we reaffirm our commitment to supporting an environment that fosters meaningful dialogue and mutual respect.”

Jamie Miller, president of the Associated Students of SDSU, said the meeting was productive and largely cordial.

“I think there was a very positive message,” she said. “The beauty of the conversation was we were able to come together and move forward.”

But Alkhawaja, who also was at last week’s protest, said: “I just don’t get why it’s so difficult for him to condemn the posters, to call them what they were. What we got instead was a promise to continue our conversations.”

During an interview Monday, Horowitz called the protest an outrage. “I don’t know why the president isn’t suing those students for false imprisonment,” he said.

Horowitz defended putting students’ names on posters because of their association with groups he said are linked to terrorists.

“They’re allowed to have opinions, even if they’re bad,” he said. “But these aren’t just students. They’re activists who are part of a terrorist network. They don’t commit terrorist acts, but they incite them.”

Warth writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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