Officials are investigating a series of hate crimes near Idaho State University that allegedly caused at least two Middle Eastern countries to threaten to withdraw their international students. The president of Idaho State, Arthur Vailas, told Reuters Thursday he’d been in communication with leaders in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to reassure them their roughly 1,000 students were safe at his institution.
"This would be a devastating loss for our community and would earn us an undeserved reputation for discrimination, bias and racism," Vailas wrote in a letter to faculty, students and staff this week. "Let us join together to demonstrate to the world that Idaho State University and the City of Pocatello are communities whose 21st century values reflect intellectual and creative endeavors and achievements; care and concern for the individual; and appreciation and support for diversity in its many forms."
Saudi and Kuwaiti students make up one-tenth of the population at Idaho State, but dozens of them have reported experiencing anti-Muslim harassment over the past few months. Vailas revealed in his letter that 50 students saw recent off-campus burglaries, and last summer, 17 foreign students' cars were vandalized. Reuters reported people on campus had also been putting anti-Muslim DVDs and other literature on people's vehicles.
"It included a slideshow of terrible pictures and sacrilegious images. One even says 'terrorist manuals' on it," an anonymous student told KIFI.
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The reports caused Badr Al Eisa, the higher education minister of Kuwait, to announce he was stopping a scholarship program sending students to the school. He also mentioned that he thought the surge in racism could be linked to Republican Donald Trump's presidential campaign, according to the Gulf News.
“It’s very scary,” Saudi student Nezar Alnejidi told the New York Times.
Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad and U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson sprang into action in response. Olson told the Times she was looking into the DVDs and planned to see whether the incidents could be considered a federal civil rights violation. Blad organized a news conference Monday to support the international students and promote a more tolerant attitude on campus, the Idaho State Journal reported.
In the meantime, Vailas asked Muslim students to report any suspicious circumstances to police. "The only way we can help is for people to come forward and we can look into the cases,” he told Reuters.