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As cases of Islamophobia rise across U.S., Muslim students at UConn are getting hate messages

Former UConn student Lena Maarouf received a threatening voicemail punctuated with racial slurs while her number was listed as a contact for Students for Justice in Palestine at UConn. After playing the message for reporters at a press conference she explained she has now heard and transcribed the words so many time she is numb to the message which finishes with the words, "I can't wait to see you dead."
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Former UConn student Lena Maarouf received a threatening voicemail punctuated with racial slurs while her number was listed as a contact for Students for Justice in Palestine at UConn. After playing the message for reporters at a press conference she explained she has now heard and transcribed the words so many time she is numb to the message which finishes with the words, "I can't wait to see you dead."

Lena Maarouf stepped down from a UConn student chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine when she graduated in 2022.

But that didn’t stop a man from leaving behind a voicemail filled with racial slurs, threats and calling her a “terrorist,” which she said, is all too familiar.

“Growing up in America post 9/11, you grow accustomed to those types of comments and that type of response from people,” Maarouf said.

Other student groups and students at UConn’s Storrs and Stamford campuses say they also received racist emails and voicemails in recent weeks in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, according to the Council on American Islamic Relations’ Connecticut chapter. The council says the messages reflect rising islamophobia, referring to other messages received in recent weeks.

Maarouf didn’t want to publicize the message at first, but she said the student group decided it needed to spread awareness.

Maarouf said she’s become desensitized to racist and Islamophbic attitudes from others. She said many Muslim students tend not to report these incidents.

“A lot of Muslim students will not report hate crimes against them because they just feel like it's going to fall on deaf ears,” Maarouf said.

UConn engineering student Muneeb Syed also got a racist email. Syed recalls growing up, walking with his mother as she wore a hijab as passersby muttered racist comments under their breath.

UConn, by contrast, is welcoming and the school administration and student body largely accept Muslims.

Yet Islamophobia happens at UConn too, he said.

“There was one, one year ago, where a Muslim woman was walking on campus, a car drove by late at night, and started harassing her; same story,” Syed said.

Incidents of Islamophobia are increasing across the U.S. as a result of the war, said Farhan Memon, chairman of the CAIR Connecticut chapter. The national organization has documented hundreds of calls over the last few weeks, he said. He blamed the rise in Islamophobic hate speech partly on politicians and schools siding with Israel, and fewer examples of support for Palestinians and Muslims. That, he says, makes Muslim Americans feel marginalized.

But calls to CAIR have also increased, he said.

“As more people get affected, they are trying to reach out and our phone has been ringing off the hook: parents at local schools, university students, people that work and are getting affected at work,” Memon said.

Memon criticized the school for not publicizing the incident and called on the school to support its students.

University spokesperson Stephanie Reitz issued a statement in response, saying in part that UConn condemns Islamophobia just as it condemns antisemitism.

“We recognize the concern generated by the messages, and we join others in condemning the hateful sentiments in the strongest terms,” Reitz said.

Memon said these incidents are connected in a wider context of Muslim students feeling unwelcome at schools nationwide, and called on stronger university support for its students. Similar student groups at Harvard University and other schools have reported doxxing attempts and threats as a result of their support for Palestinians.

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