Within hours of the terrorist attacks already known as “France’s 9/11,” a campus candlelight vigil was held outside the student union at the University of Minnesota.
But a week after the Minnesota Student Association rejected an annual tribute to 9/11 victims, alleging that it could generate “Islamophobia and racism,” the University of Minnesota remains silent on whether to allow the “9/11 Never Forget” mobile exhibit on campus in December.
“We do not yet have a response,” said Emmalynn Bauer, a University of Minnesota News Service public relations consultant.
The controversy erupted after a Nov. 10 decision by the Twin Cities campus student government to oppose a moment of silence to honor victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“The passing of this resolution might make a space that is unsafe for students on campus even more unsafe,” said MSA at-large representative and director of diversity and inclusion David Algadi, according to the Minnesota Republic.
“When will we start having moments of silence for all of the times white folks have done something terrible?” Algadi asked.
As word spread of the student group’s action, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation offered to send its 1,000 square foot exhibit with World Trade Center artifacts, and firefighters who were on duty 9/11, to the Twin Cities campus.
The foundation was created to honor a firefighter killed on 9/11, raising awareness of the heroism of emergency responders and millions of dollars to build high-tech “smart homes” for injured members of the military. A Duluth veteran, Marine Cpl. Mark Litynski, received one of the foundation’s customized homes in July.
“We are deeply disturbed by this development,” said John Hodge, Tunnel to Towers Foundation chief of operations in a Nov. 16 letter to UOM President Eric Kaler. “The rejection of that resolution engenders a real question: Is the legacy of 9/11 retribution, hatred, and fear? Because the people who were actually there live a different legacy.”
If invited, Tunnel to Towers will highlight a University of Minnesota graduate who became one of 9/11’s most famous heroes — Tom Burnett Jr., who helped bring down Flight 93. The university offers a scholarship in Burnett’s honor.
“That’s such an act of heroism, said Frank Siller, Tunnel to Towers Chairman and CEO. ”These kids have to know that somebody who graduated from that school that died on 9/11 was in a plane and went and did something so he could protect and maybe save somebody else’s life.”
In the wake of a backlash, the student association’s attempts to reposition the reason for rejecting the resolution have fallen flat.
“Much of the discussion in Forum on this resolution also revolved around the logistics of how a moment of recognition could be implemented on a college campus of thousands and the lack of requested research on if and how this is executed on other campuses,” according to a Nov. 13 MSA statement.
The controversy has sparked criticism on MSA’s Facebook page, further stoked by the terrorist rampage in Paris just days after the MSA vote.
“Please come down to the Vet Center in Johnson Hall and explain to us how much logistical problems prevented your legislative body from coming to a conclusion. I’m sure we’d love to hear it,” posted Johnny Towle.
“The only way to eliminate bigotry and ignorance is through education rather than political correctness (PC) and ignoring reality,” wrote Matthew Alan.
While university administrators supported the resolution for an annual 9/11 tribute, they urged others to “take a moment to understand the entire situation before attacking the actions of our students.”
A new resolution will be presented at the next MSA meeting.
“The author of the original resolution and others are currently working together to bring a new version to the Nov. 24th forum,” said Emma Mazour, MSA communications director.
Regardless of the outcome, the Tunnel to Towers offer to visit the UOM campus stands.
“A moment of silence, that’s all that was voted on in that school, was to have a moment of silence, and it was voted down,” said Siller. “That is pitiful in our country to have students do something like that.”