Freshman Yasmine Rouai sat on the gray carpeted floor in the Academic Center with her back against the cold, white wall. She played with her dark hair as she spoke somberly about the events of the past few days.
“People walk around saying they are against terrorism, but they go around terrorizing others (of different descents),” she said.
Rouai, an Algerian, said she has heard many stories about people of Arabic and Muslim descent being harassed after the terrorist attacks that occurred Tuesday at the Pentagon and New York’s World Trade Center. She said strangers gave her unpleasant stares on Metro and some even avoided sitting next to her, but she has felt no discrimination from the GW community.
The freshman said GW students and professors have been aware of the discrimination and have contacted her to ensure her safety.
Although there have been isolated occurrences and rumors of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim discrimination on campus, most GW students, of all origins, said they believe GW’s diverse community provides for a more tolerant environment than places where reports of attacks have surfaced.
One of these isolated occurrences took place Thursday night at Mitchell Hall. Assistant Director of Media Relations Bob Ludwig said a student wrote a derogatory note on another student’s door. The Mitchell community responded promptly by posting notes on the floor denouncing such behavior.
The Community Living and Learning Center organized a closed floor meeting open to only fourth floor residents Friday night to discuss the meeting with counselors about how to cope with the situation and the anger it causes.
“Hopefully good will come out of this situation and people will learn from it,” Ludwig said.
Other rumors of students being verbally and physically abused have been circulating, but University Police Director Dolores Stafford said Friday night that no incidents had been reported to UPD.
Freshman Todd Marino said he believes there is no reason to discriminate against anyone because people of all races and religions were killed in the attacks.
“I hope people of Arab descent don’t think people at this school are against them,” Marino said.
Junior Maryam Saeed said she heard about someone being attacked at another nearby campus, but she said she feels safe on campus.
“I’m glad I’m at GW because it is so diverse,” Saeed said. “Everyone is really understanding. Hopefully it will stay that way.”
Sophomore Lauren Silver said she cannot comprehend that GW students could be verbally or physically abusive to others because of differences in ethnicity.
“As a society, we need someone to blame, but blaming people who have nothing to do with it is not the answer,” she said. “We shouldn’t be creating more violence now.”
Student Association President Roger Kapoor addressed the issue at a candle light vigil Wednesday night. He told students that the only way to overcome this tragedy is through unity.
Kapoor also attended a joint meeting between the Muslim Student Association and Arab Student Association Thursday night to show support to Arab and Muslim communities around campus. The meeting, originally an MSA general body meeting, was held to address concerns raised from
the terrorist attacks.
Kapoor said he talked to administrators, including President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, Vice President of Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak and Stafford, about heightening awareness.
“This is probably the worst part of my job, to have to say what should never have to be said,” Kapoor said. “What I see and hear is beyond belief. We can only do this if we band together.”
Kapoor said in response to his requests UPD heightened security around the Muslim prayer rooms in the Marvin Center and at Friday prayer services at the Western Presbyterian Church on Virginia Avenue. UPD has increased its escort service, and Kapoor urges students to use it.
At the meeting, MSA Vice President Sanam Nowrouzzadeh said she understands the anger and frustration that comes out of the recent tragedy.
“This is not a `forgive us’ meeting because we in no way associate ourselves with what happened,” she said. “We have to be unified in our stance against discrimination.”
Nowrouzzadeh said students should not to be afraid of harassment because escalated emotions cause people to say things they would not normally say.
Mohamed Salem Omeish, GW’s Muslim chaplain, spoke about the true meaning of Islam at the meeting.
“The essence of (Islam) has no place for hatred towards any human being,” he said. “The word Islam means peace and tranquility and does not harbor ill feelings or violence.”
Omeish said unity at GW is necessary. He said no one condones the actions of the terrorists, no matter what one believes or where one is from.
“It’s not us versus them, it’s all of us,” Omeish said, “We have to speak as Americans.”
Chair of the D.C. Council of the Muslim Students Association Faisal Matadar said he has heard of isolated cases of verbal abuse of other Muslim students, especially of snide remarks around the GW campus. But he said there seems to be less discrimination around the D.C. metropolitan area than other places around the nation.
Matadar told students to take safety precautions and to report and document any incidents of harassment or assault.
“No one needs to be a hero. Tell someone immediately,” he said.
Many organizations and administrators are available to contact if necessary, such as Trachtenberg’s office, Kapoor, UPD, the MSA and ASA.
ASA President Dimiana Farag said her mother worked a block away from the World Trade Center and saw the planes hit the buildings. She said many family friends of Middle Eastern ethnicity worked in the buildings and have not been found.
“As an Arab-American, I feel a combination of sorrow, regret and fear. I can’t really express my feelings better than that,” Farag said. “I am as confused as other Americans.”
She said that racism stems from ignorance and must stop. People have to stand together and support each other, she said.
“Why add to the hurt?” Farag said. “Haven’t we learned from the way we treated the Japanese during World War II?”