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“Take if off and hang yourself with it”: Muslim students racially vilified

Georgia Behrens reports on the spate of Islamophobic incidents on campus.

A number of Muslim students have experienced serious incidents of racial vilification on University of Sydney campuses in recent weeks.

In one incident, a female Muslim student was told to take her hijab off her head and hang herself with it while walking to Redfern Station.

Members of the Sydney University Muslim Students Association were also abused while promoting their annual Islamic Awareness Week.

A SUMSA member, who had asked another student not to rip down posters for the festival, was asked “What are you going to do, behead me?”– a reference to the recent, highly-publicised executions of Western citizens by extremist group ISIS.

In a similar incident, students handing out fliers for the festival were told that they were “trying to make 9/11 happen all over again,” and the University would be better if it had no Muslim students.

Several Muslim students at the University’s Cumberland campus have also reported being spat on in recent weeks.

SUMSA spokesperson Mohamad Raad says that Muslim students have been deeply troubled by this spate of Islamophobic attacks.

“As Muslims, we’re obviously aware that there are a lot of tensions out there at the moment, but you don’t expect these sorts of things to happen on an Australian university campus,” he said.

“When you see these sorts of things happen here, and see things like a Muslim woman getting pushed off a train in Melbourne,  they make Muslims feel marginalised and Isolated.“

Raad said that, in general, he believed that USyd had a very tolerant student population, but that recent Islamophobic media reports had fostered racist tendencies both on campus and around the country.

He said that female Muslim students wearing hijabs had borne the brunt of racism on campus, given that they were immediately identifiable as Muslim.

“We’ve had some [female students] say to us that when they sit down in lectures people very rarely sit next to them- they’ll sit down and find themselves in an empty row in the lecture hall,” he said.

Over the past week, SUMSA has been liaising with the Vice-Chancellor’s office, SRC, and USU to discuss strategies for addressing Islamophobia on campus.

At a meeting on Monday, the Vice-Chancellor agreed to consider providing additional security at SUMSA events to prevent further instances of racial vilification.

“The Vice-Chancellor was very concerned to hear these reports and urges any student with a specific complaint to let his office and appropriate authorities know of their concerns,” a spokesperson said.

USU President Tara Waniganayaka said expressed concern that students had been racially vilified while involved Islamic Awareness Week, a USU-sponsored event.

She said that the USU Board will be discussing a range of options, including an awareness campaign, to address the issue of religion- and race-based discrimination.

Raad said that SUMSA would continue advocating on behalf on Muslim students in coming months.

“We hope that further action by us on this sort of thing will not be necessary, but if it is we are prepared to do everything necessary to provide support to students who need it,” he said.

He encouraged students to report all instances of racial vilification to Campus Security, and to speak up about other forms of racial discrimination and Islamophobia on campus.