Ayesha Akbar

English Assistant Professor Snehal Shingavi said even without a shred of evidence, a majority of people in the United States believed the explosions that took place at the Boston Marathon were the result of Muslims.

Texas Amnesty International invited Shingavi to speak at a rally intended to raise awareness for and petition against American drone strikes Tuesday evening, although he took the opportunity to briefly discuss the related topic of Monday’s Boston bombing. While Shingavi exposed the human rights violations of drone victims, he also said anti-war activists have to engage in honest dialogue about why these drone strikes happen and talk about what kind of political movement is required for change.

“The idea of Islamaphobia has become so pervasive that even before we know what’s happening,” Shingavi said. “The kind of ideology is that Islam is the enemy and Islam is violent and therefore everything that is done is justifiable.” 

Shingavi also said drone strikes not only destroy life in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they actually deplete resources in the United States.

"Everything that’s used to destroy lives there is money taken away from building here that can be useful for life,” Shingavi said. “That’s a very useful way to think about drone strikes.”

According to Ayesha Akbar, president of Texas Amnesty International, drone strikes have killed 2,000 civilians and 200 of them have been children. Akbar read three personal accounts from the Middle East of those personally affected by drone strikes. The victims who wrote the accounts said the expectation of potential drone strikes causes them to live in fear.

“These stories [show that many Americans] don’t realize how personal … of an issue and how deeply [a drone strike] affects those that lose loved ones,” Akbar said.

Amnesty International is the world’s largest grassroots organization with more than 150 countries and 3 million members, according to international relations and global studies sophomore Rachel Sullivan.  

Following Shingavi’s mini lecture, three students, Elijah Allred, Charles Stephens and Joseph Flores performed slam poetry on their feelings about United States foreign policy and the topic of drone strikes.

Aerospace engineering sophomore Katie Vlasoff attended the event because she said she wanted to see her friend perform poetry. Vlasoff said she thought the topic was very interesting especially because it’s very easy for people in the United States to feel disconnected from the issue.

“The disconnect is not only because it happens in countries so far away with people that we already alienate but also because it’s made to make you feel disconnected,” Vlasoff said. “No human can say that I pulled the trigger, and so it’s a dispersal of the responsibility and the dispersal of the ethical problems that fall when you are taking away lives.”  

Additions to the Violence Against Women Act will better protect students on campus, University officials said.

The latest version of the act, passed by Congress in February, will require colleges and universities to strengthen policies regarding sexual assault and now address instances of hate crimes.

Jennifer Hammat, institutional Title IX coordinator and assistant vice president for student affairs, said the 70 required changes will increase the protection of students on campus and will likely help report crimes that may not have previously been reported.

“The transgender community will now be protected and that makes the campus a safer place for people in that situation,” Hammat said. “Stalking will also be a reportable crime, although that can be difficult to determine.”

The campus changes would add categories including national origin and gender identity to hate crimes, which will now include domestic violence, dating violence and stalking incidents reported to campus security or local law enforcement. These amendments will be implemented in the University’s 2015 Annual Security Report. 

Ayesha Akbar, journalism, humanities and liberal arts honors senior, said the legislation is especially valuable in a university setting. Akbar is president of UT’s Amnesty International chapter, which promotes awareness of human rights abuses, including sexual violence. 

“It’s incredibly important for college campuses to address sexual violence in order to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students,” Akbar said. “Sexual violence is, unfortunately, very prevalent on college campuses and we must target it by preventing assault and ensuring that victims of assault receive support and have access to necessary resources from campus officials.”

Jane Bost, Counseling and Mental Health Center associate director, said the act has a significant impact on campus because it originally helped fund Voices Against Violence, a program housed in the center. The program is now fully funded by the University, which shows UT’s commitment to preventing and addressing violence crimes, Bost said.

Voices Against Violence aims to prevent sexual violence, which they define as any kind of sexual contact against a person’s will and without consent, including sexual assault, rape and sexual abuse.

Bost said the center uses an empowerment model to help victims of sexual assault, allowing them to make the choice whether to report the incident to various campus authorities. Those authorities that help in pursuing criminal or civil cases and medical advice include the dean of students and Student Judicial Services.

“We will continue to offer all these options and work with them, whether they want to report it or not.” Bost said.

Bost said the Mental Health Center would not have to change any policies or submit any extra information for the campus annual report of such crimes. The center is not required to report any confidential information in its voluntary annual security report.