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Petitioning Northwestern University in Qatar

Replace the 2017 graduation speaker for Northwestern University in Qatar.

63
Supporters

We, the undersigned members of the Northwestern University in Qatar class of 2017, would like to draw attention to the following: We strongly believe that our chosen graduation speaker, Derek Thompson, is a dishonorable representation of the graduating class’s core values, its backgrounds, and Northwestern University as a whole.

In a blog post published in 2015 titled A Step in the Write Direction, Thompson references an article he wrote in 2007 called “The bartender’s guide to the rowdy patrons of the Middle East” as an example of what he believes to be “the best representation” of his voice. In short, the article compares Arab countries to local politics in a bar in Evanston. Here are some of the examples extracted from the article, where countries like Iraq, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are heavily stigmatized:

When mentioning Iraq: “Iraq is the girl you saw from afar and thought, “This is so easy, I’d be crazy not to do it.” You throw a bunch of drinks at her, such as Fire and Ice, B52s and more than a few carbombs—although she had a few before you arrived. But before you can even try out your new pick up line (“So I hear you like bath parties?”), she’s toppled.”

When mentioning Iran: “We all know Iran — he’s that twit hitting on the girl you’ve already targeted. While Iraq’s teetering around the bar, Iran is still supplying bottomless drinks with a fat wallet. He doesn’t outright declare his intentions to make this a war over a girl, but since he and Iraq share a long history, he knows how to manipulate her.”

When mentioning Pakistan: “You need him, so you don’t provoke him. Oh, and if he sees you in cashmere, he’ll kick your ass”

When mentioning Saudi Arabia: “....a jackass most of the time, he’s easily bought off, and lately he’s been letting in some truly shady individuals. But the bars have the precious liquid you need, and what else are you going to do?”

This article is, without a doubt, fundamentally racist, ignorant and insulting, not only towards the Arab world as an entirety, but also to the students who hail from Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other countries mentioned in the article.

NU-Q has continuously encouraged its students to seek the truth, maintain accountability and impartiality, and speak out against any wrongdoings they come across. With that said, we believe that Thomspon’s views - ones he still stands by - go against this narrative.

When students raised these concerns during the all-student meeting with Dean Dennis on Wednesday, March 29, the dean said he was aware of the written article but asked the students to be more understanding and less critical, considering the article was written when Derek Thompson was still a freshman. However, upon further research, the students found that Thompson still stood by what he wrote, stating in 2015 that it was the best representation of his voice. Following that, the dean also mentioned that only after inviting Derek Thompson to come speak at graduation did he know that he was a Medill graduate. This in itself is a major concern and only goes to show that in choosing Thompson as a speaker, the administration did not even do the bare minimum, and that is its research.

It is imperative we clarify that our request is not merely based on us disagreeing with Thompson’s views of the Middle East. Had Thompson been invited to engage in a discussion during a community meeting, that would not have been an issue with any of us. The Class of 2017 is well aware that opposition enables growth, encourages debate and alters public discourse. But a graduation speaker is supposed to be someone who is representative of the seniors. Someone who provides them with life-altering lessons and advice, and is looked up to as a "role model." And given Thompson’s views of the countries that we come from, his narrative clearly goes against our values and therefore he is not remotely close to being a representation of our class.

With this said, the Class of 2017 requests that the dean’s office takes this matter into profound consideration and replaces the graduation speaker with someone who represents the values of our class and Northwestern University in Qatar as a whole.

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