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By Mehrose Ahmad, Sumaita Hasan, and Mohima Sattar, Managing Editor, Editor-in-Chief, and Opinion Editor
Linda Sarsour, one of the three organizers of January’s Worldwide Women’s March, spoke at the Townsend Harris High School student demonstration in front of the mayor’s office to protest for the immediate removal of Interim Acting Principal Rosemarie Jahoda. Invited by students, Ms. Sarsour stood in solidarity with the THHS community in their effort to remove Ms. Jahoda, saying that she will personally contact Mayor de Blasio and “give a deadline” to him to “act immediately.” She added she would support THHS even if “[the community has] to take it to the streets and bring thousands of people” in order to remove Ms. Jahoda, whom she referred to as a “mini-Trump.”
Seniors Isha Malik and Sangida Akter contacted Ms. Sarsour about two main issues: Ms. Jahoda’s controversial interaction with co-presidents of the Muslim Student Association Sangida Akter and Tahiya Chowdhury after a hate speech incident, and Ms. Jahoda’s lack of communication with the school community after President Donald Trump passed a series of executive orders, some of which directly affected members of the THHS community.
In reference to these issues, Ms. Sarsour said, “These schools are our schools. They are paid for by our taxpayer dollars. These are our children that we send to these schools. And we expect that they feel safe, that they feel respected, and that their dignity be upheld. These young people are not asking for any favors. They are asking for what they already deserve.”
Ms. Sarsour went on to compare the situation at THHS to the political climate of the country. She said, “This comes at a time where we are living in a disturbing political environment, where we have a man sitting in the White House that is discouraging free speech, attacking the media, taking and rolling back rights of young people, seniors, people of color. It sounds to me like you have a mini-Trump acting as your interim principal. We say no. Enough is enough.”
Commenting on Ms. Sarsour’s appearance at the rally, Sangida said, “Her attendance and quick reply was beyond surprising, but so overwhelming and meaningful. She’s someone we all look up to as a fighter of injustice and to have my role model run to help when Isha and I reached out about an injustice we were facing in our school was surreal, to say the least.”
Following the event, Ms. Sarsour said, “I was so inspired by the commitment, determination, the professionalism of the Townsend Harris High School students who invited me. I was inspired that they chose to organize this…the fact that they decided to organize this showed that our young people are courageous…and have conviction and values.”
The student protesters agreed with Ms. Sarsour’s characterization of Ms. Jahoda as a “mini-Donald Trump.”
Sangida said, “I think [Ms. Sarsour] said what we’ve all been whispering, but not saying publicly.”
Max Kurant, president of the freshmen and sophomore grades, said, “[Ms. Jahoda and President Trump] do not support the press, show no leadership during hard times, exhibit no empathy towards victims of hate, and act with incompetence and refuse to learn. They are almost mirror images, and at a school like this, that is unacceptable.” Student Union President Alex Chen also agreed with the comparison.
At the rally, Sangida herself spoke to the crowd, maintaining that Ms. Jahoda was indifferent to discrimination at the school following an incident after the election where someone shouted “F*** Muslims” at an MSA bake sale. Recounting a meeting where Sangida says that Ms. Jahoda declined to send a message of support to the student body over the incident (and another that had occurred), Sangida told the crowd: “[Ms. Jahoda] said ‘I am sorry I cannot send out any public message. We are a very high profile school and we have a public image to keep up. …If I were to send out any kind of message then it would mean that something is actually an issue here.’ I guess discrimination was not an issue for her that day…She truly does not care for our student body.”
Ms. Jahoda provided this statement to The Classic on the rally and Ms. Sarsour’s comments: “While I am frustrated by these inaccurate allegations, I remain 100% focused on helping students and parents at THHS, and on moving the community forward. I have always been committed to providing ALL students and staff with a safe and inclusive learning environment.”
In recent days, Ms. Jahoda, who was unavailable for comment on all news articles from The Classic and other news sources throughout most of December, January, and February, has provided similar statements to various news organizations.
Responding to these statements, Tahiya, the other co-president of the MSA, who has strongly criticized Ms. Jahoda’s handling of the November incident said: “Ms. Jahoda is all talk but doesn’t actually do anything.”