September 21, 2001
By Sarah Tippit
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Scores of students from the Middle
East are considering returning home because the aerial assaults on the
Pentagon and World Trade Center have inflamed passions against them, campus
officials said on Friday.
In recent days, at least five Middle Eastern students have
been assaulted on U.S. college campuses while several others have received
threats. The United States says Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden is a
chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks that have left more than 6,500 people
dead or missing.
U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige has urged educators to
work to ensure the safety of Arab students and school administrators have
urged tolerance on campuses. Meanwhile university police are scrambling to
beef up security and Muslim groups are warning students to keep a low
"Obviously they feel bad about Americans who paint them
with a broad brush and see all people from the Middle East as being
similar," said Dixon Johnson, executive director of the office of
international services at University of Southern California, who has urged
foreign students to lay low and avoid frequenting campus hangouts where they
believe they might face harassment.
"The students experiencing the most unease are the
recent arrivals, the youngest, of course, and unfortunately the ones who are
most visible" because they wear scarves or turbans on their heads,
For example, an Indonesian Muslim student wearing such a
scarf was assaulted by a student who ran in front of her car as a light
turned green and angrily began shaking the car and shouting at her, Johnson
A Pakistani-born student at Florida International University
in Miami told Reuters she has received several verbal threats even though
she is an American and has lived in the United States almost her entire
life. "They do it when they see you in the grocery store, they give you
bad looks and look at you so weird, so oddly. I'm not involved in it, I've
been living here since I was little. We're not all terrorists," said
the student, who wished to remain anonymous.
Mazen Ahmad El Kassaa, a 19-year-old student from Lebanon,
is leaving the University of North Carolina at Greensboro after two young
men yelled "Go home, terrorist!" before twisting his arm, punching
him and breaking his glasses last Sunday, campus spokeswoman Robin Adams
Kassaa, an exchange student who had been in the United
States one month trying to learn English, was making hasty plans to return
to Lebanon on Friday. "He said 'When things get better I will come back
when they figure out who did it and when Americans realize all Muslims are
not the same,"' Adams told Reuters.
A Saudi Arabian student at Santa Barbara City College in
California was attacked while walking near his home Monday when two men hit
him, slammed his head into their car's roof and slashed him with a knife,
Last Sunday an research assistant from India at New Mexico
State University at Las Cruces was attacked across the street from campus,
said campus spokeswoman Nena Singleton.
Last Thursday, two students at Arizona State University were
pelted with eggs and one of them was beaten in a campus parking lot, a
school spokesman said. Four people have been arrested.
Students say they have received ominous threats on their
voicemails or through e-mail. The University of Miami College of
Engineering, which has a large Arab student population, received a threat on
its office voicemail, campus spokesman Alexandra Ravinet said, refusing to
Reports are also coming from all corners that some students
are choosing to return home. For example, USC's Johnson said he received a
letter from a Kuwaiti student stating that he was "withdrawing for
family business reasons."
At Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's main campus in
Daytona Beach, Florida, a spokeswoman said a few Muslim students from other
countries had left out of apparent concerns for safety. "What we are
hearing is that some of the embassies -- and I don't know which ones -- are
simply contacting their students and suggesting that they may want to come
home," Embry-Riddle spokeswoman Lisa Ledewitz said, adding that
"less than a handful" so far have left, presumably for safety
Two students at University of Texas Austin withdrew this
week out of fear of a backlash against Muslims, said Jerry Wilcox, director
of UT's international office, which has distributed "discrimination
divides" buttons to all students.
Officials at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington told
the Chronicle of Higher Education in a report published Thursday that about
20 college students in the United States have asked for assistance in