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Minority students are demanding prayer rooms, rides to mosques and 62 other things at UMD


Minority students are demanding prayer rooms, rides to mosques and 62 other things at UMD

WATCH | UMD students are making a list of 64 demands to the institution, but are they realistic?

Update: An earlier version of this story called the demands "ProjectUMD," instead of "ProtectUMD." Spelling has been corrected.

On Nov. 17, just days after the U.S. presidential election, students at the University of Maryland, College Park, (UMD), joined hundreds of other schools in a walkout in support of minority students threatened by "the recent political rhetoric."

At UMD, the walkout also marked the start of ProtectUMD, a coalition of 25 student groups looking to make the campus a safer place for "marginalized students."

Their first task: create a list of 64 demands to the institution.

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The University of Maryland, College Park, has about 27,000 undergraduate students and was ranked the 60th best national university by US News & World Report.

The demands, which are outlined by the Diamondback, UMD's student news outlet, include:

  • prayer rooms in every major building on campus for Muslim students
  • increased mental health support
  • more professors of color
  • becoming a sanctuary campus for undocumented students
  • shuttles to Muslim services

You can see the full list here.

Sarah Eshera, one of the students behind the demands, told Circa that the movement stemmed from the "current political environment and the rhetoric being propagated against marginalized communities."

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Eshera, who is Muslim, says she's experienced micro-aggressions from students and professors who "lack cultural and religious competency."

The goal is to protect communities vulnerable to persecution and discrimination as a result of the upcoming presidential administration's policies.
Sarah Eshera, ProjectUMD student

Eshera says most of the demands are needs that "each community has already been work toward fulfilling."

"This was a way to present a united front to the university."

The demands are split up into categories by marginalized groups. The groups are the following:

  • American Indian
  • Black
  • Latinx
  • Pro-Palestine
  • Undocumented

The absence of a Jewish student group was noticed by the Washington Post. ProtectUMD said "multiple organizations were contacted to participate," but "not all chose to participate."

Two of the demands that have garnered a lot of attention are the call for prayer rooms in every major building for Muslim students and shuttles to mosques.

David Ruiz, a professor of law at USC, says it is "not clear whether courts would hold a plan for Muslim prayer rooms in every major building of a public college or university."

"Courts have said that 'accommodations' that impose costs on third parties are more suspect."

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Another one of the demands is that the university have more tenured professors of color.

For its part, ProtectUMD says "there is the Hillel for Jewish students and the Catholic student center for Catholic students. Our demand would only require than an already existing shuttle bus route be extended."

Circa reached out to UMD for comment, and here is what they said: 

"We commend the students for their passionate advocacy and for coming together in solidarity on these issues. Our president has convened a group of his staff to thoroughly review the list of demands and make recommendations accordingly. That process is well underway."

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Circa went to the University of Maryland, College Park, and asked students what they thought of the demands.

Most students were on break. The 10 students we asked for interviews weren't aware of ProtectUMD or its demands at first, but after we explained it, they said:

"I feel like this should've been done earlier," said student Malik Abu-Kalokoh. He referenced the "American Sniper incident," when the University of Maryland decided to screen the movie on campus after students complained it promoted "Islamophobia, racism and nationalism."

"I think it is important for the university to step in," said junior Sydney Porets.

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The University of Maryland Police Department says there have been zero reports of hate crimes on campus in the last two years.

UMD isn't the first student body to make a list of demands like this. Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), says "since late 2015, we saw a demand list like this at campuses all over the country."

"Demand lists of this kind were really sparked off by huge student protests in University of Missouri in November 2015."

Tuthill Beck-Coon says there have been similar demand lists at at least 80 other campuses since then.

Here are some other schools that have made similar demands list since 2015:

  • University of Missouri
  • Duke University
  • University of San Diego
  • Emory University
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • New York University
  • Tufts University
  • Harvard University
  • University of Southern California

You can see an up-to-date list here.

The administration, which is a public actor, is going to be limited by the First Amendment in how it can respond.
Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, FIRE

Critics of these movements say creating "safe spaces" could limit free speech, and Tuthill Beck-Coon says the public university will have to take that into account when deciding how to respond to the demands.

"Because there is no categorical exception for hate speech under the First Amendment, President Loh can't respond by saying, 'Ok, I'm just going to outlaw hate speech on campus.'"

Since the election, at least 190 student bodies have demanded that their university become a sanctuary campus for undocumented students, effectively protecting them from deportation on campus.

"Since the election, there was a huge spate of protests that I think will continue, hopefully, for a long time. Because this is good, protests and discussion."

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