The University of Michigan will go forward with plans to show the movie American Sniper at a school-sponsored event on Friday, reversing a previous decision to cancel the showing after Muslim students protested that the movie was offensive.
The decision to cancel the showing—which was part of a popular Friday night school-wide social event designed to provide students with alcohol-free activities—came on Tuesday after sophomore Lamees Mekkaoui started a petition against showing the film that received more than 200 signatures from students including many in the Muslim Student Association, according to the Michigan Daily.
“As a student who identifies as an Arab and Middle Eastern student, I feel that ‘American Sniper’ condones a lot of anti-Middle Eastern and North African propaganda,” Mekkaoui told the student newspaper.
The controversy comes amid a particularly tense time in higher education, as students and administrators look to strike the right balance between free speech and fostering an inclusive environment.
In announcing its plans to cancel the movie, The Center for Campus Involvement said in a statement: “While our intent was to show a film, the impact of the content was harmful, and made students feel unsafe and unwelcome at our program.”
In response to the cancelled movie, however, third-year Michigan law student Rachel Jankowski circulated a counter-petition that gathered more than 200 signatures raising concerns over the silencing of free speech in canceling the showing. “If the University prevents a movie like this from being shown, it promotes intolerance and stifles dialogue and debate on the subject and goes directly against the atmosphere UMix purports to provide,” the petition read. “As adults at a public university, we should have the option to view this movie if we so choose and have the opportunity to engage on the topics it presents to come to our own conclusions on the subjects.”
On Wednesday, the university reversed itself, announcing it would show the movie as planned.
“It was a mistake to cancel the showing of the movie American Sniper on campus as part of a social event for students,” said E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life. “The initial decision to cancel the movie was not consistent with the high value the University of Michigan places on freedom of expression and our respect for the right of students to make their own choices in such matters.”
The movie depicts the life of the late American soldier Chris Kyle.