Bemidji State University confronts increase in anti-Muslim sentiment
Updated: 4:51 p.m. | Posted: 10:16 a.m.
Bemidji State University President Richard Hanson sent an email to students and staff Tuesday to condemn an increase in vocal anti-Muslim sentiments reported on campus.
Several international students report they received disparaging anti-Muslim comments in recent weeks both on campus and in the surrounding community, he said.
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"The student reports are isolated but outrageous nonetheless. I strongly condemn any and all expressions of bigotry, racism or intolerance. These are completely unacceptable and in conflict with our values of mutual respect, understanding and generosity," said Hanson in the email.
Provost Martin Tadlock also sent an email to faculty and staff Tuesday.
"Staff in the BSU International Program Center have been meeting with many of our Muslim students who are increasingly becoming targets of disparaging comments from other students and from members of the Bemidji community. The frequency and intensity of those comments seem to be increasing, especially over the past few weeks."
The staff email did not detail the nature of the "disparaging comments," saying only that Muslim students were in tears, and said they were afraid to go out into the local community.
Fadli Mohamed is one of less than 10 practicing Muslims on campus. In her three semesters on campus, she said no one in Bemidji has taken issue with her religion. The campus, she said, is generally a welcoming place, but reports of anti-Muslim comments weren't a surprise.
"As soon as the Paris attack happen, I thought oh no. This is happening again," she said.
Mohamed's family fled civil war in Somalia in the mid 1990s. She was five years old at the time, the oldest child of a growing family. Days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, her cousin, a 12-year-old Muslim girl was nearly run down in the street by an angry driver shouting racist slurs.
Nearly every time an attack is carried out across the world, she said some discrimination against Muslims follows in the U.S.
"People need somebody to blame," she said, "and we're an easy target. We have been for a long time."
In response to the racial and ideological tensions, administrators Tadlock and Hanson stressed the university's commitment to religious tolerance.
Tadlock asked students to report "any kind of disparaging comments that may be targeted at any student, but especially those of the Islamic faith at this particular time in our history."
With attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., still in the public eye, Tadlock wrote that the anti-Muslim sentiment is likely the result of an "inability to separate political rhetoric from reality."
Hanson and Tadlock have not yet returned calls for further comment.
This is not the first flare of anti-Muslim tension in the Bemidji area. Usama Dakdok, a Christian speaker who grew up in Egypt, has visited the area three times in as many years.
Dakdok, known for preaching against "the disease of Islam," spoke to large crowds in nearby Bagley in October 2013 and July 2014. Both appearances sparked protests.
Dakdok held two events in Bemidji in September of this year.