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Colleges address concerns of foreign students

| Sunday, Sept. 16, 2001

Area colleges and universities are warning their international students to be alert to the possibility of backlash against foreigners in the wake of terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

Ken Service, spokesman for La Roche College in McCandless, said he doubts there would be physical attacks, but said there could be other repercussions.

'Unfortunately, some of that may surface in the form of inappropriate comments or racism,' he said. 'And we asked them to try and bear with Americans. We're not actually concerned that they are in any danger here on campus.'

Students were asked to remain on campus throughout the week.

La Roche has about 250 foreign students in its Pacem In Terris program, which provides a free education for students from war-torn or distressed places including Palestinian territories, Jordan, Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia and Namibia.

'Many of them are all too familiar with this sort of tragedy, and they do have sympathy,' Service said.

Shakir Mohammed of Ethiopia, president of a foreign student organization at La Roche, said the tragedies shook his view of the United States, which he has come to see as his second homeland.

'We used to have a perception that America is such a peaceful country,' Mohammed said. 'It seems like the world by itself is not peaceful. We are all being attacked. That's what we felt.'

He said he, too, feels great sorrow about the loss of life.

'It seems like it's hard for the people to understand our feelings,' Mohammed said.

No racial or ethnic incidents have been reported at the University of Pittsburgh, spokeswoman Trish White said. None were reported at Robert Morris College or other local colleges and universities with large populations of foreign students.

Duquesne University has a Muslim prayer room, and grief and sensitivity counseling are available, spokeswoman Ann Rago said.

'(Charles Dougherty), our president, walked through the dorms and tried to get a sense of the tone. He said things were calm, and people were feeling much more comfortable on campus than off,' she said. 'I think the university is ecumenical in description and its actions.'

G. Warren Smith, president of Slippery Rock University, issued a statement to his campus community warning of the potential for racial and ethnic retaliation and encouraging tolerance.

Cecilia Griffin Golden, chief executive officer of the Greater Pittsburgh YWCA, which includes the YWCA Center for Race Relations Center and Anti-Racism Training in McCandless, said the center's staff will help anyone with race-related concerns, especially on college campuses.

Diane Hernon Chavis, director of the race relations center, said the tragedy is a difficult precursor to the organization's Oct. 19 'Week Without Violence' campaign.

'This changed our perspective and planning on our Week Without Violence,' she said. 'In terms of specifics, we are going to continue to assess the tragedy so that we can strategically address how best to help the community heal. We do have partnerships with members of the Islamic center and the Jewish community.'

Mohammed also saw the need for people to come together.

'I've seen innocent people dying. We have the same feelings. For most of the Americans, it's hard for them to understand us in this way,' he said. 'All the world has been shocked, and I don't think anybody is happy for this event.'

'When something wrong happens to America, it seems that the world itself has something going wrong, something not peaceful.'

Mark Berton can be reached at mberton@tribweb.com or (724) 779-7108.

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