Students and administrators concerned about the federal investigation of international students are working to inform Northwestern students about their civil rights and prevent the university from releasing students’ personal information.
The Evanston Police Department has interviewed two students at the request of the federal government, said EPD Cmdr. Michael Perry. McCormick senior Hisham Zaid, a Jordanian passport holder with a student visa, said EPD will interview him today.
Fahad Ahmad, Muslim-cultural Students Association public relations vice president, said the 5,000 international students being questioned across the country are targets of an unjust investigation.
“You’re singling out people just because of their descent and because they’re international students,” said Ahmad, McCormick junior. “There’s no evidence against these people. I don’t see any reasons why the FBI would want to question them.”
In light of the interviews, some activist groups plan to increase awareness of possible civil liberties violations.
In two weeks, Northwestern Opposing War and Racism will perform skits in residence dining halls to publicize the privacy infringements and violence that have accompanied terrorism investigations. This “guerrilla theater” includes re-enactments of three recent controversies, including the November strip search of a Muslim woman at O’Hare International Airport.
“Because the war in Afghanistan is not being publicized in the press, people are willing to believe it’s over,” said Liz Uzelac, a Music senior and NOWAR member. “I think right now we’re focusing on an information campaign to raise awareness that these issues haven’t gone away.”
NU’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union plans to distribute “Know Your Rights” pamphlets next week providing information about civil rights as part of the organization’s national campaign. The pamphlet provides essential information to foreign students who may be unfamiliar with their rights to remain silent and consult an attorney in the United States, said ACLU-NU Executive Director Tina Valkanoff.
“It’s important for students at Northwestern as well as people in general to know what constitutional protections they have,” said Valkanoff, a Weinberg junior. “Hisham said he comes from a place where he can’t have certain expectations as to his rights. Because he has these rights in America, he should know what they are.”
Administrators also expressed concern for students under investigation.
Ravi Shankar, director of the International Office, said the university should make sure that students’ civil liberties are protected.
“We need to make sure we can get in touch with our legal counsel … to see if we can assist the students in getting legal assistance,” Shankar said.
Some groups expressed concern that the university may assist the investigation by providing students’ personal information to the FBI. According to University Registrar Suzanne Anderson, NU has provided only names and addresses to the FBI.
While some colleges, including the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin, declined to cooperate with the government, the University of Illinois allowed its campus police to interview students under investigation.
Arab Cultural Society Co-President Tanya Colburn said she would object if NU revealed more than basic facts.
“I think they should just release information that the police would be able to find anyway,” said Colburn, a Weinberg sophomore. “If the police want to find courses or activities or anything, they can take it up with students themselves.”
Earlier this year, ACS sent a letter to University President Henry Bienen requesting that the university notify students if NU releases personal information to the FBI.
In a November reply, Bienen said NU doesn’t inform students when directory information is released because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Colburn said. But the university notifies students of data released under subpoena unless prohibited by the provisions of the subpoena.
Several students criticized the government’s methods. Peace Project member Mischa Gaus said the investigation undermines basic American values by inhibiting free expression.
“Students like Hisham are upstanding members of the community,” said Gaus, a Medill senior. “He may have political beliefs that conflict with many people, but as long as they have the right to be in this country, they have a right to hold unpopular views. I would be greatly troubled if they were targeted for these views.”
But others said they would tolerate the investigation unless students complained of violations of their rights.
“If members come to us and say, ‘I feel like my rights were infringed upon in my interview,’ we would take action as an organization,” said ACS Co-President Diana Droubi, a Weinberg sophomore. “Civil liberties are in question here and it doesn’t seem like an issue right now, but I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. Students need to keep track of this to make sure their rights are respected.”