Internationals struggle with harassment
Val Vita | Managing Editor
Collin Joy says that coming to study in the United States was one of his dreams. He left his home country of India to study automotive engineering at Pitt State one year ago. Sadly, he says, during one night about four months after arriving here, he received a “shock treatment.”
“I was walking to the rec center in September last year when all of the sudden, around six or seven guys … started yelling at me and calling me ‘Al-Qaeda’ and ‘terrorist,’” Joy said.
He says what happened was such a shock that all he did was plug his earphones in and keep walking.
But that wasn’t the only such incident. This summer, nearly one year later, Joy says he and a friend, Kartik Keshre, were riding their bikes to the Weede building when a white car approached. He says the guys in the car threw plastic bottles at them.
“They didn’t say anything, but we know it was on purpose because they came back to us,” said Keshre, an MBA student.
According to Keshre, the same car came back when they parked the bikes, and this time someone threw beers cans at them.
“We didn’t say anything to them, we kept in silence,” Keshre said. “That day was only a bad experience.”
Keshre says he thought the guys who threw the bottles and cans were probably drunk, so they didn’t make a complaint. They shared the episode only with some friends.
“I’ve never been treated like this,” Joy said. “I lived in Australia for one and a-half years and I’ve never experienced that. It was repulsive.”
Keshre and Joy agree that incidents like those might have happened because of several factors, among them their skin color. Keshre says that sometimes, Indian students are confused with Arabs because of their color.
“Some people think that all Muslims are terrorists, that all brown skin are terrorists,” Joy said.
A report from the Justice Department of the United States, published in the New York Times in Aug. 6, shows that hate crimes not happen only in Kansas. According to the report, “In the first six years after 9/11, the department investigated more than 800 incidents involving violence, threats, vandalism and arson against persons perceived to be Muslim or Sikh, or of Arab, Middle Eastern or South Asian origin.”
Joy believes that 9/11 is the explanation for these crimes. He says the world history became divided into “before 9/11” and “after 9/11.” The creation of stereotypes with people from other countries, especially from the Middle East, he says, started with 9/11.
“People should know what’s India, and that India and United States are allies and have no conflicts,” said Joy, who bought a T-shirt that says, “I’m an Indian, not a terrorist” after what happened.
Because of the two episodes, Joy says he is constantly afraid that people are going to say anything to him when he walks into some place.
“I tried to transfer four times, because I was hopeless,” Joy said. “But I love this university and didn’t want to lose such a good program.”
Abdulrahman Saleh, a student from Saudi Arabia, says he hasn’t had any experience like that, but he faced other problems with Americans since he got here.
“Thank God, in the past eight months I spent in the USA, no one called me a terrorist or something like that,” said Saleh, freshman in automotive engineering. “But American students don’t talk or look at me. It gets really awkward when I want to talk to them, and eventually, I don’t do that at all.”
Saleh says that puts him in trouble when he has a question about a class.
“This point is what makes me angry the most,” Saleh said. “This is my second semester here, and I only became friends with international students. American students don’t talk to me even if I try to.”
Chuck Olcese, PSU director of international programs and services, says he didn’t know about these specific incidents.
“It’s disappointing when this happens,” Olcese said. “It’s sad and it’s hard to control, and we would like to not expect that.”
Olcese says that the international office would like to hear from international students when this kind of thing happens, because they can work with other offices to find a solution.
“After 9/11 there were a few incidents,” Olcese said. “Then, from time to time there’s a report of students threatened about their ethnicity. But it may happen more than we hear about it.”
According to Olcese, integrating cultures is a big part of his department’s mission. Not only do they try to integrate the international students with the American culture, but they also have several programs and events that help Americans become familiar with students from other countries, like the Pitt Pals program, the host family and the international gatherings.
“We are in an isolated place, a small town in the middle of the country,” Olcese said. “So it’s our job to make students learn about other cultures.”