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Beatings reportedly accompanied by ethnic slurs at Guilford

by Jordan Green

A hostile encounter at a Guilford College residence hall between students reputed to be members of the football team and three Palestinian students preparing for a night on the town escalated into a flurry of ethnic slurs that ended in the three being hospitalized with concussions.

The assaults took place in the courtyard of Bryan Hall early in the morning hours of Jan. 20 at Guilford, a Quaker college in Greensboro that holds a national reputation for its emphasis on social justice and nonviolence. Witnesses said the site was under construction, and the assailants commandeered loose bricks to carry out the attack. Faris Khader and Osama Sabbah, both students at Guilford, and Omar Awartani, a friend visiting from NC State University in Raleigh, were attacked after hearing taunts from members of the Guilford College football team, Awartani said on Monday.

The three friends had attended a Quaker school together in the West Bank city of Ramallah before coming to North Carolina to attend their respective universities.

“It was the ugliest thing I have ever seen,” said Awartani, a freshman pursuing a double major in aerospace and mechanical engineering at NC State. “I’ve seen Israeli soldiers doing this to me in Palestine, but I’ve never seen this with citizens. It just came with punches, kicks and brass knuckles. There were witnesses that told me they were picking up rocks and bricks and hitting me.”

A mass e-mail sent to students and faculty from Dean for Campus Life Aaron L. Fetrow on Sunday evening stated that the college was investigating the incident and a “judicial process will proceed rapidly and fairly.”

“Such behaviors have no place at Guilford and will not be tolerated in a community that values diversity, acceptance and the peaceful resolution of conflict,” Fetrow wrote. “Incidents such as these can be, understandably, sensitive and emotionally charged. I understand that these emotions cannot be easily subdued, nor should they be; however, factual analysis, rational and inclusive discourse and openness are hallmarks of this community and will continue.”

Awartani reported that he was taken to Wesley Long Hospital on Jan. 20 and learned that he sustained a concussion. Also suffering from a dislocated jaw and bruises over his body, he stayed home from classes on Monday and is taking the prescribed painkiller Dilaudid. His friends later went to the hospital and discovered they also received concussions, Awartani said.

The NC State student said members of the Guilford College football team provoked the fight and that he and his friends tried to avoid getting involved, especially because Khader had been suspended in the fall semester. First Sabbah was attacked and then Khader, Awartani said. He tried to pull some of the assailants off his friends.

“That’s when I got my share of the assault,” he said. “That’s when they put me on the dirt and beat my ass. All this was accompanied by ‘sand niggers,’ ‘fucking Palestinians,’ ‘terrorists.’ I would like to say seven to eight people were attacking me.”

College spokesman Ty Buckner said he could not confirm that the assailants were members of the football team. Buckner declined to release an incident report prepared by the college’s public safety office, which he said “wasn’t very explicit.”

“I believe some medical attention was sustained by some students,” he said. “I think it was more than two and I don’t think it was all on one side of the conflict. Several of the participants had some medical attention. I think they were treated on the site.”

As of Monday, Buckner said no disciplinary action had been taken against any of the students involved in the fight.

Student Laura Herman, who witnessed the early stages of the brawl, and other students said they believe the campus Public Safety Office failed to respond to the incident in a timely manner. She said she placed a call to the office when the fight began. After it subsided she left the scene, but other witnesses later told her that 30 to 45 minutes elapsed before a safety officer showed up. By then the fight had erupted again and largely concluded.

“Their office is right across the road,” Herman said. “It doesn’t take more than five minutes to drive from one end of campus to the other. It took them thirty to forty-five minutes to get there, and I feel that the fight was allowed to get very violent because of that.”

Buckner disputed the notion that safety officers handled the incident in an inappropriate manner.

“I do know that they did respond and now we’re following up,” he said. “I would suggest that it did not take forty-five minutes to respond. I’m sure the college will assess all the aspects of this event and make sure we’re doing what we need to do.”

Herman and another witness supported the Palestinian students’ claim that members of the football team took part in the attack. She said students and faculty at the college have widely expressed indignation over the beating.

“I feel like within any community there are going to be people who think it’s okay to be racist and act violently,” she said. “We’re a very tolerant campus. There’s been a real big outpouring to make it clear that this type of behavior is not acceptable.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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