Harvard Brands Those Worried About Syrian Refugees Islamophobic

University office distributes placemats that promote political opinions about race and justice

Harvard Placemats Harvard Republican Club Facebook
Harvard Placemats / Harvard Republican Club Facebook
December 16, 2015

Placemats recently distributed to students by an office at Harvard University appear to brand Americans worried about accepting thousands of refugees from Syria Islamophobic.

The "holiday placemats for social justice," first reported by Campus Reform, were distributed by Harvard’s Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, a university official confirmed to the publication, and were found in an undergraduate dining hall.

The placemats, produced in collaboration with the Freshman Dean’s Office, are meant to serve as a "guide" for students to discuss race and justice with their families over the holidays. They present students with four topics and accompanying statements that students might encounter at the dinner table and also offer appropriate responses to each statement.

One of the four topics displayed on the mat is "Islamaphobia/Refugees," with the accompanying statement reading, "We shouldn’t let anyone in the U.S. from Syria. We can’t guarantee that terrorists won’t infiltrate the ranks of refugees. They’ve already done it in France." The placemats incorrectly spell "Islamophobia."

The placemat advises students to respond to loved ones exhibiting such "Islamophobic" concerns by encouraging the Syrian refugee program as a method of "racial justice."

"The U.S. has been accepting refugees from the war-torn areas around the world for decades. Remember the wars in Central America?" the model response reads. "They were extremely violent, and the U.S. accepted refugees from all sides of the wars with very strict vetting and not one incident of violence. Racial justice includes welcoming Syrian refugees."

Fears of terrorists entering the country through the Syrian refugee program have mounted in the wake of the Nov. 13 Paris terror attacks, after which one of the attackers was found to have entered Europe using a fake Syrian passport and posing as a refugee. In fact, a majority of Americans do not want the United States to accept refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria, according to polling conducted in the aftermath of the coordinated attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

At least 29 people legally allowed into the United States between 2012 and 2015 have been accused of involvement in terrorist plots, according to public reports highlighted this week in the wake of the Dec. 2 terror attack at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California.

The placemat also advises students on how to respond to questions about recent protests surrounding allegations of racism at Yale University, the deaths of black individuals at the hands of police officers, and Harvard’s recent decision to change the title of "House Master" because some argue it relates to slavery.

Students are directed to respond to questions about black students "complaining" about racism at Yale by saying, "When I hear students expressing their experiences of racism on campus I don’t hear complaining. Instead, I hear young people uplifting a situation that I may not experience. If non-Black students get the privilege of that safe environment, I believe that same privilege should be given to all students."

To suggestions that black individuals killed by police should have "listened to the officer" and followed the law, Harvard undergraduates are encouraged to wonder what role race played in the situation.

"Do you think the response would be the same if it was a white person being pulled over?" the response promoted by the placemat reads. "In many incidents that result in the death of a black body in the street, these victims are not breaking the law and are unarmed."

On the topic of the "House Master" title change, students are directed to argue that it was not an "onerous" change to make given that some people found it offensive.

The placemats have been met with criticism across campus, according to Idrees Kahloon, a senior at Harvard who penned an op-ed criticizing the placemats in the Harvard Crimson Tuesday.

"I’m certainly not alone in thinking that the placemats are a bridge too far," Kahloon told the Washington Free Beacon. He pointed to the Harvard Republican Club’s creation of a parody placemat that has been circulated on social media. The club planned to pass the parody placemats out at the dining hall Wednesday, according to Aaron Henricks, the club’s outgoing president.

Kahloon, who describes himself as a liberal, said that he took issue with the placemats because they demonstrate college administrators’ effort "to publish political opinions that supposedly speak for all students."

While Kahloon said that he regards arguments against admitting Syrian refugees as "weak," he said that it is wrong for university officials to suggest that Americans concerned about possible terror threats from refugees are "arguing from a place of racism."

Kahloon wrote in his Crimson article that the placemats appear to be modeled after similar ones from activist group Showing Up for Racial Justice whose mission is to compel "white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability."

Henricks, the Harvard Republican Club president, said he was "disturbed" by the school’s apparent endorsement of political opinions in dining halls.

"It’s totally inappropriate to me. It’s even more ridiculous that it’s the Office for Inclusion publicly saying that if you oppose accepting 10,000 or more Syrian refugees with little confidence in the vetting system, you’re bigoted and Islamophobic," Henricks told the Free Beacon.

He called on the university to immediately remove the placemats from dining halls.

Harvard’s office of Public Affairs and Communications did not return a request for comment by press time.