The Associated Students of Madison’s Diversity Committee raised concerns about the harassment of Arab-Americans on campus at its kickoff meeting Tuesday night, and plans on meeting today to address formal plan-making.
The committee’s chair, Jennifer Epps, said minority students and community members are feeling backlash from Tuesday’s attacks in New York and Washington by terrorists who are reputedly Islamic.
Epps said the media is mostly to blame for making what she called irresponsible accusations immediately following the attacks.
“The first thing that concerned me while watching the news was that Muslim, Arab-American, and South Asian students might feel threatened,” Epps said. “Our primary concern is that we somehow provide these people physical safety.”
Members of the committee shared the concern that students already feeling the threat of violence might soon become the target of hate crimes.
As of yesterday, no reports of violent attacks have been made to the committee. However, Diversity Committee co-chair Jenny Chen warned it is common for hate crimes to go unreported.
“According to the U.S. Department of Justice, hate crimes are becoming increasingly common on college campuses,” she said. “There have already been three hate crimes on this campus this year, and we need to be concerned for the safety of Arab-Americans with the additional threat placed on them after the terrorist attacks.”
Epps said the targeting of Islamic students stretches further than physical threats and assaults, though.
“Our climate on campus and in our classrooms is completely unacceptable,” Epps said. “The way many professors are handling the campus class discussions and letting the discussions target ethnicity or religion is completely unacceptable. I know many students who haven’t gone to class because they’re uncomfortable.”
This afternoon there will be a “Speak-Out” program where the Diversity Committee hopes to establish a system of addressing harassment issues and provide protection to those groups who may feel the brunt of scapegoating.
Various other organizations, including the Multicultural Student Coalition and the Muslim Student Association, are also in the midst of organizing teach-ins, forums and info sessions regarding these issues.
The MSA is currently planning a project for Friday with a host of speakers, and Wednesday night there will be a community and campus “teach-in” to provide educational resources and understanding of the Islamic faith.
The teach-in will be held in Room 3650 of the Humanities Building from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. tonight.
The Diversity Committee also addressed goals for the coming school year.
Sandra Estafan, the Multicultural Issues Director for United Council, the UW System-wide student government, announced plans for hosting a “Building Unity” conference.
The conference will aim to educate the student population about diversity issues.
“This is a really a huge event for us,” Estafan said. “The conference is held in a different city every year, and we are happy to host this year. It is a great opportunity for students to touch on multicultural issues in a broad way.”
Plans are also being made to offer diversity training for any student organization through a diversity education specialist. The diversity education specialists are members of the UW faculty trained to incorporate diversity issues into the lifestyles of the campus community.