Letter to the Editor: Muslim students are valuable members of our campus community

Last Tuesday, I read an article in the New York Times with the following headline: “University of Arizona Students Hurl Insults, and Litter, at Mosque in Tucson.” I work closely with a number of Muslim students in my role as Intensive English Program Coordinator at UA’s Center for English as a Second Language. Many of our students pray at the Islamic Center. The majority of these students go on to be Wildcats, contributing their cultural perspectives to UA classrooms and enriching our campus. 

Thinking about the level of hate and ugliness in a person that would lead them to do something like throw trash at a sacred place like a mosque, or to call these individuals terrorists, made a shiver run through me. When I then considered the fact that some of those on the receiving end of this kind of hate might be the same terrific students I work with daily, I felt my teeth clench and my hands ball into fists. Why? Because I know that, on the whole, the UA is not an ugly place filled with ugly people who do ugly things like throw trash at mosques and drive by individuals who just prayed calling them terrorists. Yet, there it was in front of me, in black and white. 

That conflicted feeling followed me to CESL’s annual International Festival, which took place on the UA Mall last Thursday. If you happened to be walking by, you got to see students from all over the world showing pride in their countries and cultures. Our students danced to traditional music, shared cultural artifacts from their countries and answered questions from UA students, elementary school students from Tucson and members of the UA community.

With the New York Times article still fresh in my mind, you can imagine my repulsion at the presence of a couple of hate-filled individuals on the mall shouting obscenities at our Muslim students, spouting blatant lies about the message on the Saudi Arabian flag (no, it absolutely does not say “death to non-believers”), and saying that our female, non-Muslim teachers were tacitly granting permission to become “Muslim sex slaves” by actively participating and celebrating with these students. Those were some of the less offensive remarks.

What’s the acronym you see so much on message boards these days? “smh?” It really is hard to imagine someone saying these things, let alone believing them; but here we are. I was afraid the shame I felt after reading Tuesday’s article was about to be confirmed in the form of unopposed hate speech on our beautiful campus. Happily (very happily), the reactions of the CESL faculty and staff, our CESL students and, most impressively, UA students walking by the event were swift and resolute. UA students didn’t stand by idly allowing lies and bigotry to dominate that space. They stood up to the bullies either literally or by engaging with CESL students and showing genuine interest in what they had to say and show about their cultures. To those of you who confronted these tormenters, as well as those who stopped by to express interest, my sincerest thanks to you. 

One particularly memorable student was ex-military, a man who’d spent time in the Middle East. He came to our students’ aid with gusto, going toe-to-toe with one of the biggest loudmouths on the mall yesterday. I just wish I would have gotten his name and shook his hand. To him and all others who showed true UA spirit yesterday, I think I can safely speak for our students and our center when I say thank you. We hope to see all of you again at future CESL events. Go Wildcats!


— Steven Randall is the Intensive English Program Coordinator at the Center for English as a Second LanguageSteven Randall is the Intensive English Program Coordinator at the UA Center for English as a Second Language.



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