By Charlie Smart
More than 300 students, faculty, and administrators from the University of Connecticut gathered outside the Wilbur Cross building Monday in a demonstration against racial intolerance.
Mahmoud Hashem, a Muslim student at the university who found the words “killed Paris” scrawled beneath his dorm room nametag addressed the crowd.
Hashem is from Egypt and came to the U.S. this year to finish his education.
“I was so upset. I actually cried at first,” Hashem said. “I’m not a terrorist. I don’t do that. I love America. I come to live in America. I love the people here, so don’t treat me like a terrorist.”
The nametag vandalism was an apparent reference to the terrorist attacks in Paris Friday, which killed over 120 people.
Hashem said his father asked him to shave his beard following the Paris attacks.
“I know he [Hashem’s father] afraid about me because we are in like foreign country,” he said. “He called me yesterday, ‘you have to shave your beard, I told you, I was right.’”
Ahmed Ouda, a friend of Hashem, and Anna Ziering, a graduate student in the English department, organized the event, which was announced in an email from UConn President Susan Herbst.
Zierging said Herbst’s email was unexpected, but welcome.
“I think it’s great and very powerful to have her voice behind the event. I think it would also be very powerful for the university to do this kind of thing for itself,” she said.
Ouda spoke at the demonstration, calling on university administration for increased efforts to prevent further incidents of discrimination.
“We ask that there be diversity and tolerance classes just like there are classes on alcohol, sex-ed, and campus safety,” he said.
UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said in an email that feedback on such issues is “important” and that university administrators have been “discussing ways to get more training and discussion on diversity into our orientation programs.”
As the demonstration continued, students from various campus groups spoke.
Omar Allam, social chair for the Arab Students Association, discussed the need to “demystify” Arabs on campus.
“We want to educate the people that Arabs are not all Muslims, they’re not all terrorists, they’re not all bellydancers.”
Allam thought the event was a success.
“I was really, really happy with the turnout today,” he said. “I think we can do more and I think it’s a right step in the right direction.”