Student concerns were brought to attention in the Weber State University student senate meeting Sept. 9, in reference to a controversial letter to the editor published in the Monday issue of The Signpost.
The meeting began with President Charles Wight thanking all the senators for their service to the WSU community.
“I was noticing on the back of a lot of your nameplates is a logo or a little reminder, ‘You are here to serve them,’ and that is a very appropriate thing that should be on the back of mine,” Wight said. “I am here to serve you as well. If there were no students, there would be no university, so thank you for representing the students and thank you for serving the students.”
After a speech from student body president David Wilson and a short announcement from the vice president for Student Affairs, Jan Winniford, senate president Brady Harris opened the forum for students to voice their concerns.
Harris started the forum discussion by reiterating the senate policy and reading off the Inclusivity Statement: “’Pivotal to Weber State University’s mission is the need to embrace and value the diversity of its members. Acknowledging the uniqueness of each individual, we seek to cultivate an environment that encourages freedom of expression.”
Zaynab Alshakhiss, international student senator for 2012-13 and the first female Saudi Arabian to hold the international student senator position, took the floor first to voice her concerns over the letter to the editor, “How many Muslims does it take to change a lightbulb?”
“As minority students, as Muslim students who are studying here, university to university, this is what touched us . . . this is what’s out there,” Alshakhiss said. “Not everyone gets a chance to know us as persons; they probably didn’t get the chance to study with us or share us, our beliefs, but this is the opinion of someone who would say something so bad about us.”
After reading the letter to the editor to the senate committee, Alshakhiss followed up by saying, “This is so, so hateful. You can’t judge all Muslims around the world just because of what happens in some areas. This doesn’t apply to all Muslims.”
Alshakhiss stayed at the podium to answer questions from senators. WSU Asian student senator Nicholas Phinney asked if she saw the letter as hatred, if she felt Americans are damaging the Muslim culture, or even if she felt she was in danger.
“I feel it is kind of harmful, because it means that basically, they are careless about like as a minority,” Alshakhiss said. She added that she never feels like she is in danger on the WSU campus and she is proud to be part of the WSU community.
Davis campus senator Tyler Hall took the floor and said he had veteran friends who wanted to discuss the safety issue and the letter to the editor. He said they were happy to see a letter to the editor in the paper, but they were displeased a rebuttal was not included.
“I’m pretty sure they won’t forget to do that this time,” Hall said. Harris interjected, asking Hall to clarify. “The Signpost, The Signpost was so happy to have somebody write a letter to the editor after a year and a half of nothing . . . was it the best start? No, they will remember a rebuttal forever,” Hall said.
Signpost editor-in-chief Raychel Johnson approached the podium next to clarify the position of The Signpost and the staff’s role in journalism.
“Coming from a journalistic point of view and being new to my role as editor-in-chief, we really haven’t received any feedback or a letter to the editor in over a year and a half, so there is no policy or procedure to follow,” Johnson said. “A point I have is that it started a conversation. It got people aware of what’s going on . . . and I’d like to clarify it was a letter, not an article. It was not written by anyone on staff; it was sent to me.”
The majority of senators supported Johnson for her decision. Even Wight spoke out about his support.
“Raychel, I also wanted to express my support for The Signpost and your choice to publish the letter,” Wight said.
Residence hall senator Kami May said she didn’t understand why Johnson did not talk to the current international student senator, Anna Ivanova, to get a rebuttal to print right next to the letter so Johnson wouldn’t have to deal with the backlash.
“As an editor-in-chief, I don’t want to have myself perceived in a biased side either way,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t go out and solicit letters as a rebuttal. I print what comes to me.”
The Signpost publishes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Anyone interested in writing a letter to the editor can look on www.wsusignpost.com for submission guidelines.