On Tuesday afternoon, during an open lecture at Scripps College, several attendees unaffiliated with the college challenged the lecturer to explain his views about Islamist terrorism and President Trump’s immigration policies, sparking half an hour of testy debate that culminated in an email from a Scripps dean providing resources to students traumatized by the exchange.
The lecture, part of Scripps’s Tuesday Noon Academy speaker series held in conjunction with the Scripps Humanities Institute, was on the subject of American-Islamic Relations and xenophobic rhetoric in the wake of the 2016 presidential election.
A video taken by an audience member shows one of the dissenters asking the speaker—Hussam Ayloush, Executive Director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA)—if CAIR disavows suicide bombings.
The exchange devolved into a shouting match between the dissenter and Professor Hao Huang, the director of the Scripps Humanities Institute, who told the man, “you don’t belong here if you can’t shut up. Shut up!”
Composed throughout the exchange, Ayloush responded that “as a Muslim, I cannot enter paradise if I didn’t believe in the sanctity of life,” but refrained from offering a yes or no answer to the question.
In a later exchange a different dissenter berated a Scripps student for being brainwashed.
Throughout the question and answer period like-minded attendees variously volunteered their concerns about community safety—“I have Jewish friends who didn’t want to come here today because they were afraid for their safety”—and their dissatisfaction with Ayloush characterizing President Trump’s travel ban as a “Muslim ban.”
“[Trump’s travel ban] was not a Muslim ban; it was a travel ban!” one attendee said to the speaker. “You’re a bigot and a liar.”
At the conclusion of the question-and-answer session, one of the dissenters accused Ayloush of deception: “You can’t have a dialogue when lying at every step of the argument.”
Several student attendees walked out during the hostilities.
According to the event description, the purpose of the lecture was to discuss how “[t]he xenophobic rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election has only intensified since Donald Trump took office, and campaign promises have manifested into tangible policies and executive orders that have stalled immigration applications, torn families apart, grounded travelers, and instilled fear in entire immigrant communities throughout the nation.”
The description also condemned President Trump’s language and policies pertaining to the “Muslim Ban,” and contended that Ayloush would “trace the evolution of Islamophobic policies from the fringe to the mainstream, showing how presidential decrees like the Muslim Ban actually have precedents that are decades old.”
Hussam Ayloush is no stranger to controversy. Last December he issued an apology for an ill-conceived tweet about a Russian military jet that crashed on its way to war torn Syria: “I’m sad about the crashed Russian military jet. The Tu-154 could have carried up to 180 military personnel instead of just 92!” he had written.
Shortly after the incident at the lecture, Scripps Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Charlotte Johnson issued an email statement noting the availability of resources for students impacted by the “anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant” comments, “which are in direct conflict with our shared values.”
Dean Johnson added that members of the Scripps community who felt targeted by race, religion, ancestry, age, among other identities, “may contact our Title IX office and make a complaint under Scripps College’s harassment and discrimination policy.”
Scripps College’s student government—Scripps Associated Students (SAS)—also issued a statement, condemning “these sentiments of islamophobia and hatred. We offer warm thoughts and support to those who were affected by these events.”
Scripps College—along with Pitzer College, Claremont McKenna College, Pomona College, and Harvey Mudd College—is a member of the Claremont University Consortium.
The body of Dean Johnson’s email is included below:
Dear members of the Scripps community,
At today’s Tuesday Noon Academy, Campus Safety responded to a call about a heated exchange between the speaker and a group of audience members, unaffiliated with The Claremont Colleges. Some members of our community in attendance reported that these audience members’ comments were anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant, which are in direct conflict with our shared values and principles of community. Scripps College condemns acts of bigotry or hatred, even when purportedly made in the name of intellectual freedom. Any member of our community targeted because of their race, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or immigration status may contact our Title IX office and make a complaint under Scripps College’s harassment and discrimination policy.
We realize that there were students in attendance at this event. Support and resources for impacted Scripps students are available from the Dean of Students Office, located in Balch Hall.
Charlotte Johnson Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students
William Gu contributed reporting.