UCF received some heat Tuesday when an alert described a rumored gunwoman as "Middle Eastern." Police Chief Richard Beary addressed media Wednesday. Video by Caroline Glenn & Isabelle D'Antonio
During the late afternoon of Tuesday, April 26, UCF sent out a message through its text message system stating in urgent letters “POSSIBLE MIDDLE EASTERN GUN MAN/WOMAN IN UCF MAIN CAMPUS LIBRARY. AVOID THE AREA!”
According to the UCF Police Department, this alert was sent out in response to an unsubstantiated social media post that stated someone in the library appeared as though he or she was praying while holding a gun in his or her hand. All floors of the library were evacuated, and, after searching the entire building, UCFPD announced the building safe with “no threat found,” according to the Future. Later, it was said that the unidentified student who was accused of holding a gun was wearing a Muslim headscarf and praying in a corner by the stairs at the UCF library, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
As a student in her junior year at UCF, I was very thankful that the incident was unfounded, and that all of the university staff and students were safe. However, I find the nature of the alert sent out by UCF quite concerning and problematic.
To send out an alert describing a supposed “Middle Eastern gun man/woman,” without even identifying gender is truly puzzling. “Middle East” is a term utilized to categorize a vast region that spans western Asia and northern Africa, and contains nations very ethnically diverse from each other, from Turkey and Lebanon to Syria and Iraq. Someone who is of Middle Eastern origin may range in appearance, from someone with blond hair and blue eyes to someone with brown eyes and olive skin. With this term categorizing such a broad group of people, its use is subjective and not at all conducive to identifying a suspect in such an emergency. Rather, it could lead to racial profiling and put a large number of students in danger.
It would have been more beneficial if the UCF alert was sent out with a description of the person’s manner of dress, the person’s shoes, the person’s height or the person’s gender. In the future, I hope that UCF acts more wisely and does not utilize such a vague description that feeds into people's stereotypes and prejudices.
As for the student or students who originally reported the incident after seeing a woman in a headscarf, I would like to bring to light two very important facts. I would first like to point out that being Muslim does not equate to being of Middle Eastern origin, and being of Middle Eastern origin does not equate to being Muslim. Islam is a religion that has very diverse followers all across the world, and vice versa the Middle East is home to many followers of other faiths, such as Judaism and Christianity. I myself am a Muslim who identifies as South Asian-American.
In addition, to see a student praying in Muslim garb and claim that he or she has a gun is an extremely serious and concerning accusation. It is an incident reflective of the Islamophobic rhetoric that is at an all-time high in our nation. I hope that the UCF community as a whole will use this opportunity to educate themselves on how prayer is performed by those who practice the Muslim faith, and will consciously recognize and combat the xenophobia being spread across our nation today through various channels, from our media to our politicians. As a proud Knight, I hope and pray for more understanding among our community.
Guest Columnist Tahoora Ateeq is President of the Pakistani Student Association at UCF.