Backlash concerns students

by Megh Duwadi | 11/1/01 6:00am

While most Dartmouth students of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent have largely escaped a nationwide trend of discrimination in the past seven weeks, concerns of bias and misunderstanding remain.

Ben Gebre-Medhin '02 was verbally assaulted at a West Lebanon nightclub in mid-September. Although he did not formally notify authorities of the incident, it has been discussed at various on-campus meetings.

Gebre-Medhin is of North African descent.

In Hanover, no hate crimes have been reported in the aftermath of Sept. 11, although worries were voiced to the police department about the possibility of backlash toward minorities.

Nora Yasumura, advisor to Asian and Asian-American students, noted incidents of racial discrimination in the Upper Valley. Students have approached her with sentiments of fear and anxiety, as well as with rumors they wish to quell.

"As time goes by, things have gotten better, but it is still an ongoing issue," Yasumura said.

Ozzie Harris, director of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity has noticed growing safety concerns among members of the Dartmouth community.

"I definitely think that there are people who are Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim or South Asian who are worried about the way they are being perceived," he said.

Reports of more than 700 hate crimes against people with Middle Eastern features have been filed after the World Trade Center and Pentagon plane crashes.

Among the College's efforts to heighten awareness of the turbulent situation overseas have been a four-part series sponsored by the Rockefeller and Dickey Centers discussing the roots of the conflict, letters to the community from various administrators and several forums about Islam.

"I have a sense that we're being pretty effective," said Harris. "The [College] President has made it clear that [Dartmouth is] a welcoming and inclusive environment and that we will not tolerate acts of bigotry and intolerance."

Harris has received "relatively positive" feedback regarding the administration's outreach efforts.

"We won't tolerate any discrimination," Harris said. "Institutions such as this are tested in these difficult moments -- this is when these matters of inclusion and acceptance really do make a difference."

Munish Dayal '04, vice president of the South Asian Students Association, Milan, feared that incidents of prejudice and hate may be going unreported.

"The Dean's Office is doing a great job to address the issue, but the administration needs to continue providing resources for students," he said.

Milan has recently compiled a list of faculty members and students designated as resources for those who feel targeted by ethnically-motivated backlash.

Many people don't realize the present concerns of minority students because "the College is so removed from the outside world," Dayal said.

Changing perceptions of foreigners have also affected Dartmouth's international community.

Robin Catmur and Ken Reade, advisors to international students and scholars, noted "widespread concern" among international students, along with a generally "brave, not unduly worried" outlook.

"There's a huge amount of misinformation among visa matters," said Reade.

Steve Silver, director of the International Office, previously sent direct messages to international students about administrative policies affecting them.

"Students should feel empowered to use our resources," Catmur said. "The College's efforts are aimed at reassuring the whole community."

The administration has created a Blitzmail bulletin and a committee dedicated to issues stemming from the Sept. 11 tragedy, and the Student Assembly passed a resolution responding to the attacks.

Yasumura stressed the need for Dartmouth students "to become educated about Islam."

"Each individual should take the initiative and talk to others and learn about them," she said. "If things do happen, there are administration, faculty and students who will be very much concerned. Some members of our community are feeling uneasy, and it's important that everyone show support for them."

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