BEMIDJI-- Bemidji State University administrators are trying to calm a ripple of anti-Muslim sentiment at the school while an intensifying faction of the country views Islam as a threat to national security.
Martin Tadlock, provost and vice president for academic affairs, sent a memo to faculty Tuesday, expressing concern over the treatment of some Muslim students by their classmates and by people in the Bemidji community. "We have spoken with students who are upset, in tears, and afraid to go into the local community," he wrote. "This is unacceptable."
Tadlock urged faculty at BSU and partnering Northwest Technical College to report all students who make disparaging comments to other students, "especially (to) those of the Islamic faith."
In a statement emailed to all students Tuesday afternoon, President Richard Hanson wrote:
"Several international students at Bemidji State University have been subject to negative statements on and off campus concerning their perceived faith. Such verbal attacks may be inspired by heated political rhetoric following recent terror attacks in Paris and California.
"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."
Of the 5,000 students at BSU, roughly a dozen are Muslim, said Scott Faust, director of communication and marketing. Faust said the university is uncertain the students who have claimed harassment are even Muslim, perhaps targeted because of their appearance.
He said all incidents have been verbal.
Talking by phone Tuesday, Faust said his comments would represent those of administrators and those of staff at the BSU International Program Center, which supports international students and works to help all students understand global issues.
Without students bringing their problems to staff at the center, Faust said the university would be unaware of the targeting.
"We have zero tolerance for this kind of thing," Faust said. "We're going to remain vigilant to anything along these lines and make sure we respond quickly."
Because the school is beginning final exams, Faust said administrators are considering a campus-wide event addressing the matter in January.
Tadlock, whose email to faculty was shared with media and city administrators, including Mayor Rita Albrecht, wrote that he believes the targeting has three causes:
- A deep misunderstanding of beliefs held by devout Muslims.
- An inability of some to separate the beliefs and actions a few from the beliefs and actions of many.
- And an inability of some to separate political rhetoric from reality.
Last Wednesday, a married couple entered the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif., killing 14 with assault-style rifles and other guns.
Last month, a series of coordinated attacks in Paris killed 130 and injured hundreds. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed it was behind the plot.