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Following Paris Attacks, UConn Students Rally Against Racial Intolerance on Campus

Nov 16, 2015

A day after the Paris attacks, a note found on a Muslim student's door read, "killed Paris."

Students and faculty at the University of Connecticut joined in a demonstration Monday speaking out against discrimination and intolerance on campus following the deadly attacks in Paris. 

The event on Monday afternoon was organized after a hurtful message was written outside a Muslim student's dorm room. 

UConn President Susan Herbst said the message was directed at the student because he is Muslim. She said there is no place for bigotry on campus.

In the message -- found the day after attacks killed more than 120 people in France -- somebody wrote "killed Paris" beneath the student's name tag on his door. 

A friend of the targeted student, UConn junior Ahmed Ouda, spoke on WNPR’s Colin McEnroe Show. He said some students are asking for the school to facilitate a deeper conversation about tolerance. 

"I think an ideal outcome would be open communication with the public," Ouda said. "I grew up in post-9/11 United States. I’m Muslim. Every time something terrible like this happens, I feel the need to explain myself when I really shouldn’t. I don’t even associate with these people. I abhor what they do, and everything they stand for."

Listen below for more from Ouda, and read the transcript:

"We’re all citizens of the world. We owe it to ourselves and our communities to make it a safe place to be."
Ahmed Ouda

HOST COLIN MCENROE: Just for starters, I kind of alluded to what happened, but in your own words, explain what did happen to your friend.

AHMED OUDA: He woke up the day after the tragedy that happened in Paris to find “Killed Paris” written underneath his name on his door tag. He was already devastated by what happened in Paris, and when he saw this, he just broke into tears.

MCENROE:  I would imagine that he did. I know that there’s been some call now to the administration of UConn to frame this somehow, to begin a deeper conversation about this. Tell us what’s happened on campus so far.

OUDA: We’ve been lucky to see that the initial reaction has been strong, especially by the student body. We hope that the administration is going to take our suggestions into light, but we’re not planning on letting them off the hook. This has been going on all around the country. We really want to make a change this time, and we think UConn could be at the forefront of a lot of change all around the country.

MCENROE:  On this issue -- on how Muslims are spoken to and perceived; the degree to which they’re arbitrarily linked to an event like that -- what kind of change would you look for? What would be an ideal outcome, and what would be the means to get there?

OUDA: I think an ideal outcome would be open communication with the public. I grew up in post-9/11 United States. I’m Muslim. Every single time something terrible like this happens, I feel the need to explain myself, when I really shouldn’t. I don’t even associate with these people. I abhor what they do, and everything they stand for, but for some reason I always feel the pressure. My heart drops a little bit. What I’m hoping is that on a national level, we start listening to each other. I mean, we’re all citizens of the world. We owe it to ourselves and our communities to make it a safe place to be.

MCENROE: There’s a double bind here, right? On the one hand, I really love this tweet from Mohamed Ghilan, the thinker: “Asking me to condemn the obviously condemnable presumes my basic moral code is in question. I refuse to take part in this.” Whenever there’s something like this, certainly still in my mind from 9/11, there’s a lot of human cry saying, well, that Muslims have to condemn this; they have to condemn this in the strongest and most overt terms, which most Muslims do, and will do, but is there something offensive implicitly about demanding that right? You bear some special burden to condemn something, which any reasonable person understands is evil and abhorrent. How do you react in that conversation?

Students during a lecture at UConn.
Credit UConn
"Culture starts at university campuses. University campuses produce educated people that will hopefully, in the future, shape how we live."
Ahmed Ouda

OUDA: I think he’s spot on. My entire goal is just to make sure that people know that this is a very inhumane act, and I want to make sure that people recognize that Muslims are human, too, and therefore they also think it’s inhumane. I have never ever met anybody who says that this is okay, in my life, ever. Not when I visit Egypt. Not in the United States. Not when I go to a Mosque. So I think it’s absurd that people have this notion that we have to justify ourselves. Like you said, there’s this inherent assumption that our moral code is in question.

MCENROE:  So we know what the goal is: the goal is a more open flow of communication; maybe a more open flow of information, too. I’m not sure how many people understand. I mean, by one CIA estimate, the total manpower of ISIS or ISIL is 31,500. The entire world Muslim pollution is about 1.6 billion, so you get the sense of what an incredibly tiny slice of the Muslim population would be, at least nominally, or actively, associated with ISIL. But maybe those are numbers that people don’t know. When you think about them that way, there’s an absurdity that’s obvious about linking the average Muslim, no matter where he or she is living, to ISIL. It doesn’t really make any sense numerically. Maybe that’s the kind of thing you’re talking about -- that somehow or other, conversations about those kinds of things have to happen in some kind of fairly organized way. At UConn, what would you like to see happen: would you like to see forums, campus-wide conversation? How does that take place on a college campus?

OUDA: What we’re pushing for right now is to have more diversity and tolerance trainings -- like there’s sex ed trainings -- there’s campus and alcohol safety training during orientation. We’ve spoken to the dean of students about maybe introducing a diversity supplemental essay into the application -- things that ensure that people who are joining the UConn community are accepting. This isn’t to shelter them. This is because culture starts at university campuses. University campuses produce educated people that will hopefully, in the future, shape how we live. If we shape their lives now, and make sure that they’re tolerant, open-minded, accepting people, then maybe 20 years down the line, this won’t be a problem anymore.

MCENROE:   I sometimes think you can have these forums -- and I think they’re great -- and I think it can work, and it can make a difference. On the other hand, there are gonna be some people who kind of sleepwalk through that whole process, and come 2:00 am on Saturday night, they’re still going to be that jerk who writes that thing on your friend’s door. I wonder if there’s a way to have a more profound conversation that really does change people. I fear, anyway, that people walk through the processes that you’re describing right now, but they don’t really engage with it.

OUDA: Yes, and I’m hoping to put the pressure on to not do this -- to think about this. Next time this person goes to do something like this, they’re gonna think about the last time -- this whole uproar happened -- and they’ll think twice. So even if they don’t change their mentality right away, at the very least, they won’t take action. And maybe somewhere down the line, they will learn that what they did was very hurtful, very wrong, and that they damaged somebody’s psyche; they damaged the way somebody thinks about the world just because of a stupid action, even if you’re drunk on a Saturday night at 2:00 am.

Stephanie Riefe contributed to this report, which contains information from The Associated Press.