Muslim students urged University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg to adopt a statement reiterating GW’s zero tolerance policy toward hate crimes against Muslims at an emergency Muslim Students’ Association town hall meeting Tuesday night.
About 50 students attended the event in the Marvin Center Amphitheater to hear University officials and Muslim activists discuss issues confronting Muslim students as a result of the war in Iraq. Assistant Vice President for Public Safety and Emergency Management John Petrie and Assistant University Police Chief James Isom were also on hand to address security concerns.
Trachtenberg said while Muslim students have raised concerns about being targeted by hate crimes, GW’s diverse student population allows for understanding and tolerance of different ethnicities and religions.
Students asked Trachtenberg if the University would issue a formal declaration condemning attacks against Muslims, similar to the statement he signed earlier this year condemning anti-Semitism.
Trachtenberg said the statement, signed by more than 300 other university presidents, was spawned by anti-Semitic attacks but condemned all hate crimes, not just those committed against Jews. He said he would issue a similar statement about hate crimes but would not separately address the concerns of different ethnic or religious groups.
Students said they were disappointed that the president didn’t offer support for a zero tolerance policy declaration for hate crimes committed against Muslim and Arab students.
“I wish the president had taken a more active stance on issuing a specific statement saying that all discrimination against Arab, Muslim and other minority students during this critical time of war is not allowed,” said junior Amna Arshad, president of the MSA. “I’m glad that he offered to issue one for every student, because I think that’s really important, but I wish he’d been more willing to make it specific.”
Students were also worried about repercussions resulting from the war in Iraq.
GW graduate and former MSA president Amima Chaudary talked about her experiences as a GW student in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. She said Muslim students were right to be concerned about student reaction toward Muslims on campus.
“These issues are a very legitimate concern and I don’t think they can be dismissed as theoretical,” Chaudary said.
While Muslim GW students were not targeted in hate crimes following the first Persian Gulf War and the September 11 terrorist attacks, according to past Hatchet articles, several incidents have highlighted the tension between different ethnic and religious groups on campus. Last April, five students were barred from attending a speech at Hillel, according to an April 18 Hatchet article. Event organizers were concerned that the students would “create a ruckus.”
In the past four years, there have been no reported cases of hate crimes on campus, according to UPD crime statistics.
The UPD Web site does not list hate crime statistics before 1998.
However, Isom said he is not aware of any hate crimes committed on campus while at GW. “But that’s not to say something hasn’t been going on,” said Isom, who urged students to report hate crimes to UPD. “You need to let us know.”
Isom also said UPD would consider providing security for events such as Friday night prayers if an organization requested.
Trachtenberg warned against perceiving all incidents as hate crimes.
“We don’t want to trivialize the concept of hate crimes,” Trachtenberg said. “If someone gives you a dirty look, give them a dirty look back. We don’t want to create an environment where people are so concerned that it’s unnatural.”
Isom said students should feel safe on campus, noting there have been few reported cases of violence on campus in recent months.
“Is GW safe?” Isom asked the audience. “It’s a big, bad world, but yes. I think GW’s safe.”
Tarek Elgawhary, a master’s student and member of the MSA, praised GW for supporting its Muslim students.
“I’m very honored to have the University work with us in what are trying times for some people,” said Elgawhary, referring to the war in Iraq and its impact on Muslim students. “The University has taken a stance to protect its students.”