• University offers reward for information about harassment of Muslim student

    University of St. Thomas officials decided yesterday to offer a $2,000 reward for information that helps identify the person or persons responsible for the harassment experienced last semester, and possibly this week, by a student who is Muslim.

    The decision to offer the reward was made after the Muslim student returned to her car parked in a St. Thomas lot Tuesday evening, Feb. 27, and found that one of the vehicle’s side windows had been smashed.

    The student’s car window was broken on the same day that an educational forum was held on campus to help students, staff and faculty learn more about Islamic faith and culture. The forum was planned in response to harassment experienced last semester by the Muslim student.

    While the student’s car window was broken on the same day as the forum, it is not known for certain if the vandalism was a hate crime directed at the student. No notes or other messages were found at the scene. On the other hand, there were items inside the car but nothing was reported stolen.

    The student’s car had been parked in the large campus lot at Summit and Cretin avenues. St. Thomas Department of Public Safety investigators currently are reviewing surveillance video tapes of the lot from that evening.

    Anyone with information about the case can provide it anonymously. To do so, call Michael Barrett, manager of investigations for Public Safety, from an off-campus phone or, if you are using an on-campus phone, first dial "8" and then Barrett’s full number at Public Safety. His number is (651) 962-5106. By first dialing "8" and then the full number, the campus phone system cannot identify the number of the caller.

    Anyone with information can also call Sister Sharon Howell, director of diversity initiatives, at (651) 962-6461.

    The decision to offer the $2,000 reward, a highly unusual step for the university, was made by St. Thomas’ Crisis Response Team, which met early Wednesday morning, Feb. 28. The last time a reward of this kind was offered was in the fall of 1998 when the university offered a $1,000 reward for information about hate messages that appeared in campus restrooms.

    The forum held over the noon hour on Tuesday was the second of three forums being held in the wake of the harassment. The first forum was held last December. Much of the second forum held Tuesday was presented by Dr. Laureen Hamdan, a member of the undergraduate psychology faculty here for the past five years and a Muslim for the past 16.

    Hamden will present the third follow-up forum, which primarily will follow a question-and-answer format, from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 13, in the Fireside Room of Koch Commons. The forum is free and open to all.

    The Rev. Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas, attended Tuesday’s forum and as he has in letters to The Aquin student newspaper and the on-line Bulletin Today, and in earlier forums, strongly condemned the acts of harassment toward the Muslim student.

    Dease said he was deeply distressed by the harassment. “We simply cannot tolerate this behavior. It violates her freedom and is counter to the mission of this university. As troubled as I have been by this behavior, I have been very encouraged by the strong response by our students, staff and faculty. You have been just as resolute in condemning this kind of behavior,” he told the forum audience of 200 to 300. “The overwhelming majority at St. Thomas respect all religions and respect diversity.”

     

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