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A changed climate
By Patty Marsicano
Minnesota Public Radio
September 17, 2001
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At the University of Minnesota, some Arab and Muslim students have reported verbal attacks and harassing phone calls since last week's terrorist attacks. While students say they are getting support from their fellow students and from university administrators, some have become more cautious to protect their safety.

Joshue Bergeron (left), a Jewish student at the University of Minnesota, talks to Arif Iftekhar (right), a Muslim student at the university on September 14th. Arab, Muslim and other student associations held a news conference to call for unity. Bergeron said he wanted to express his support to Arab students (MPR Photo/Patty Marsicano)
More than 3,300 international students attend the University of Minnesota at its Twin Cities campuses. They come here from more than 100 countries. But at a school with tens of thousands, international students are a distinct minority, and some of them have felt the pressure of stares and hostile comments.

The Arab Student Association received three harassing phone calls on its answering machine. University of Minnesota President Mark Yudof says he's concerned about their situation. "It's a scary time for many of these international students and we ought to do everything within our power to make them feel more secure and not allow some mindless blaming to take place on the campuses of the University of Minnesota," Yudof said.

On the day of the attacks, the school's International Students and Scholars Services sent an e-mail to international students and scholars on campus warning that "an increase in verbal and physical harassment for internationals in the U.S. is possible." On Friday, that office, along with campus police, student health service, and other school administrators met with the students to ensure them the university would support and protect them.

Suleiman Nader, 23, is from Jordan and is president of the Minnesota International Student Association at the university. Despite the school's assurances, he still feels scared. "We don't wear our traditional scarves anymore, even though it's cold. A lot of my female friends don't want to wear covers on their head. They're scared, we're all scared of exhibiting anything that might indicate who you are a culture or as an Arab," Nader said.

A Palestinian, Yosef Elbador,23 , says after witnessing a verbal assault on a fellow Arab. He has stopped going out at night. "I didn't go anywhere last night and the night before. It's like a jail. I can't go anywhere, he said.

Chaidi Sen, 21, from Turkey is a computer science major at the University of Minnesota. She says she came to the United States to find peace. "I don't want to lose this peace. I don't want Americans to make the connection between these attacks and Islam," she said. (MPR Photo/Patty Marsicano)
A university plain-clothes officer stood guard outside a small classroom at Muslim students' request as they conduct their weekly prayer service inside a university building. With chairs piled against the walls, about 70 Muslim students sit quietly on long, soft cloths, occasionally bending forward to kiss the floor; men in front, women in the back, their hair covered with Muslim scarves.

In addition to the mosques near campus, this classroom serves as a prayer center for these students, and they pray here every Friday. But last Friday, with anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment on the rise, the speaker tells those gathered that Islamic doctrine upholds the sacredness of every soul and in no way endorses the killing of innocent civilians.

Arab American and Muslim Dina Khanat, a political science and global studies major, says while she hasn't been been harassed, she's still affected by the changed climate. "I've been hearing a lot of students making references to terrorists and Arabs and in that way, I am bothered, but it has not changed my daily activities in any way. I decided to go on with work and go on with school and not get affected by that," Khanat said.

The Arab, Muslim, Pakistani, Somali, and Malaysian Student Associations gathered Friday to make a joint statement unequivocally condemning the terrorist attacks. They note that the word "Islam" comes from the Arabic word for "peace" and that Arabs and Muslims were among the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center buildings. Patty Marsicano covers higher education for Minnesota Public Radio. Reach her via e-mail at,