Call for tolerance
Chico State’s Arab students worried in aftermath of attack
Their faces etched with concern, a small and nervous group of Arab students sat Tuesday night in a meeting room in the Bell Memorial Union on the Chico State University campus. They were there to talk with representatives of the university administration, Chico and university police, student leaders and school counselors about what could happen in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks earlier that day.
The meeting, arranged by Chico City Councilmember Coleen Jarvis at the request of former student Khaled Dudin, discussed the possibility of angry citizens, students and even faculty members taking out their frustrations on a certain “type” of student—those thought to be of Middle Eastern descent.
Chico police Lt. John Rutger told the gathering that his department was well aware of the tension and was “ready to assist you with anything that comes up.”
“Nothing will be tolerated,” he said in reference to any racial discrimination or hate crime, “especially in these tense times.”
He also said the police will increase patrols in areas where Arab students live.
With television news commentators pointing a finger at exiled Saudi Arabian terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and showing footage of Palestinians celebrating the success of the attack, the Arab students say they fear reprisal, both in the form of overt physical harm and more subtle means of discrimination.
Dudin, who’s lived in Chico for 13 years, tried to allay the younger students’ concerns by telling them Chico is a tolerant community.
And, he pointed out, “There is not one student here who does not abhor what has happened today.”
He said families back in the Middle East are worried about their sons and daughters halfway around the world living and going to school in an unfamiliar town.
“A lot of these students are first-year students, and their parents are very worried,” he said. “There is a possibility, not a great one, of people venting their frustrations and anger.
"[The parents] are concerned that their kids are in a place that just went through a major tragedy and fingers are now pointing at their type,” he said.
Right now is a rough time for a student population, he said, that has worked long and hard to “educate about the qualities of their community. I hope this does not put a damper on all of your efforts. Keep the faith. This is a great town.”
Dudin called on those in power at the university to step up to help the students. “It’s easy to disregard some of the student concerns,” he said.
Homer Metcalf, a retired sociology professor who has served as the faculty adviser for Arab students, said the school has been through this type of event twice before—the taking of the hostages in Tehran in 1979 and the eruption of the Gulf War in 1991.
“I haven’t seen the tension this time around like we had before,” he said. “At this point it seems very favorable, but the next few days will tell.”
Rutger said there was a report of a group of white students in a vehicle yelling “catcalls and making gestures” as they drove by the local Muslim mosque.
When the hostages were taken in Iran, the market at Fifth and Ivy was the target of vandalism. Its owner was a Palestinian, someone who had nothing to do with the uprising in Iran. But he was caught up in the blind hate demonstrated by angry locals.
Don Graham, a school counselor, told the students the Counseling Center is open and available to them. “Something like this can create responses in any human being that are very disturbing,” Graham said.
Sinan Al-Faqeeh, president of the Pan Arab Student Union, said he was glad to see the faces of Muslim, Arab and Palestinian students at the meeting and was grateful for the support from the community.
“It’s really a sad day," he said. "We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls from back home. I would just like to say thank you."