A published statement by an Arizona student that an Arab student at Portland State University was beaten is false.
John Fowler, director of Campus Public Safety, said no report of any such beating has been received. Fowler said his check of other local universities, including University of Portland, also turned up no such report. There have been unverified rumors that the car of an Arabian student at the University of Portland was damaged.
Both Dawn White, director of International Education Services at PSU, and Kate Comiskey, international student adviser, said there has been no such incident reported. They have found no substantiation of the story among Arab students here.
The story appeared in a national publication, the Oct. 5 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The headline read, “Arab Students in U.S. Head Home, Citing Growing Hostility.” The story featured statements by Abdulla Al-Mosallam, a senior at Arizona State University from Qatar.
Mosallam headed back home. He was described by the publication as one of hundreds of Middle Eastern students who decided to go home after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11.
In White’s opinion, the Chronicle misidentified PSU. The publication wrote that Mosallam was one of 48 Arizona State students to withdraw in the previous two weeks. The story then stated flatly, “A friend at Portland State University was beaten up.” Comiskey said she was sure if any such beating occurred, some Arab students would know of it.
However, Middle Eastern students are feeling the pressure of the upset in international relations caused by the Sept. 11 terrorism. White said 30 to 40 Muslim or Arabian students either deferred their admission or decided to postpone their enrollment. Another 30 to 40 in the English language program, which enrolls students for a shorter period of time, also deferred their enrollment until winter term.
One student was ready to fly here, but the flight was cancelled, so the student decided not to come now.
Comiskey said she had spoken to students about the tensions that have led to their departures.
“One of the reasons they’re leaving is due to worry by their parents, families, in their home countries.” She said she spoke with 20 to 25 students, most from the United Arab Emirates, but others from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other countries.
“Each person that came in I specifically asked if they had been harassed, or if they had felt any negative reaction,” she said. “Very, very few of them said that they had. There were a couple that said they had a little bit of harassment but no physical violence was reported at all.”
Some had heard the rumor of the University of Portland student who had supposedly had an auto windshield smashed.
“Most of them professed a mixed sadness and outrage at the Sept. 11 disaster and said this could not have been a true Muslim that did such a thing, that true Muslims believe in peace.”
The day of the tragedy, Comiskey’s office sent an e-mail to all Middle Eastern students telling them that the university is in full support of them and realizes they will feel some tension in the coming months.
“We assured them that we’re here to talk,” she said, “and do anything we possibly can to help.”
They were directed to a meeting of support at the Campus Ministry.
Another e-mail advised students if they’re traveling to talk to the international education office first.
The office can write detailed letters for each of them explaining why they’re traveling, their immigration service status and maintenance history. If they’re stopped, they’ll be able to produce a letter explaining their record here and exactly how long they’ve been here.
Some students reported positive feedback from American friends and neighbors. People had expressed support. Others reported they had things said to them that offended them or made them feel bad. Not many reported such incidents, Comiskey said.
The largest contingent of Middle Eastern students at Portland State is the group from the United Arab Emirates. It numbers 75 students. The enrollment of international students at the university is about 1,500. The population of Middle East students totals more than 170. Many Arab and Muslim students have been here for many years and consider this their second home, she said.
She characterized Middle Eastern students here as “feeling isolated and alone.” Comiskey had talked at length with only one student since the U.S. bombs started dropping on Sunday.
“She was extremely, extremely concerned,” Comiskey said. “Worried about her family. Very concerned about the U.S. bombing countries near Afghanistan.” Comiskey believes many Arab students feel this way because they’re not sure what may come next as far as military action, if things escalate.
Comiskey is not sure of the political stance of the United Arab Emirates. She assumes the country condemned the attack as Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries did.
“I know the students to whom I have spoken have certainly condemned the attack,” she said. The national media have seen fears among Middle Eastern students that they may be subjected to the treatment inflicted in World War II against Americans of Japanese extraction. At that time, the ethnic Japanese were herded into internment camps, many of them losing their property of a lifetime.
White raised an issue about entrance visas for international students in a letter to The Oregonian.
She pointed to an Oregonian story of Sept. 28, which posed the problem, “Foreign students difficult to track.” White objected to this emphasis. She conceded there may be serious flaws in the country’s visa issuing and monitoring process. She wrote out, “Every individual who enters this country on a non-immigrant status visa is difficult to track. Why are foreign students, who make up less than 10 percent of the visa holders in America, being singled out for scrutiny?”
She called an “ill-conceived approach” that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is reportedly planning to propose a six-month moratorium on student visas.
In White’s opinion, “It would not eradicate terrorism. What it would do is contribute to a further slow-down of our economy.” She emphasized that international students and their families are consumers who shop and buy.
“Our woefully inadequate visa system needs fixing, but it should not be at the expense of a group of international visitors who not only have legitimate reasons for being in this country but also help to support it,” she concluded.
Arizona State seems to be harboring a firestorm of student unrest over the Middle East issue. A Muslim student senator, Oubai Shahbandar, was faced with an impeachment hearing over what his supporters termed “defending the U.S. flag on campus.” The ASU student senate had voted down a proposal to display the American flag in a student dining hall. Shahbandar was evidently an outspoken and militant supporter of displaying the flag. Opponents complained of harsh wording in the bill and a fear of offending international students.