ESLI discusses perceptions of Middle Eastern students at WKU

Tyler Prochazka

Imagine going to a restaurant and receiving prolonged glares from the other patrons, or standing in a line and becoming the target of laughter by a group of people.

This is the reality for some Arab and Muslim-American students studying at WKU.


As part of Constitution week and the anniversary of 9/11, Ryan Hall, the director of the English as a Second Language Institute (ESLI), hosted a discussion on Wednesday about the “Perceptions and Realities of WKU Middle Eastern Students Post 9/11.”

Many students from the Middle East and Asia attended and discussed their own experiences since coming to America.

Anhar Alotaibi, who is from Saudi Arabia and attending WKU as part of the ESLI, said she has not faced many issues with Americans, but she said even if she faced discrimination, she would refuse to give in.

“I don’t want to change my identity,” she said. “They will have to eventually accept me.”

There was a common theme that developed throughout the discussion — not to “paint a group of people with a broad brush.”

Many students in the group said this causes misunderstanding between cultures.

“One of the things that creates conflict is ignorance,” Hall said.

One student said it is common throughout American history for some to exclude certain groups from what it “means to be an American.”

“When people put those labels – you’re different, you’re Muslim – that’s where the problem starts,” he said.

Some students blamed the media for false perceptions about Muslims. One said the threat of terrorism and Muslims was exaggerated in order to frighten U.S. citizens and gain power.

Louisville Senior Mark Reeves said his experience abroad showed him that foreigners do not hate Americans.

“They don’t like American foreign policy. They don’t necessarily dislike me,” he said.

Saundra Ardrey, political science department head, said that although the Ku Klux Klan said it was Christian, all Christians should not be blamed for its actions. She compared this to Muslims who were being conflated with radical terrorists.

Muhannad Almalki, a student from Saudi Arabia and a part of ESLI, said Al Qaeda members are not real Muslims.

“Before I came, I loved America. I loved freedom. I love this country,” he said.

Even though some people have been unkind to him, it has been incredibly rare and most Americans have been kind, he said.

Now, after coming to America, he said he loves the country even more.

Many pointed out that terrorism is inflicted on Muslims on a regular basis, including on 9/11. Almalki said Al Qaeda kills Saudis and “has a problem with every country,” including countries within the Middle East.

Soleiman Kiasatpour, associate professor of the political science department, said he has not faced significant discrimination while he has lived in Kentucky. However, Kiasatpour said the Federal Bureau of Investigation visited him after 9/11 because his brother had traveled from the Middle East a few days after the attack.

By the end of the discussion, many in the group said they wished it could develop more community outreach in order to counteract the false perceptions of Muslims.

Anas Rawas, who is in his first year of ESLI and is from Saudi Arabia, had the last word, which drew applause from the crowd.

“If I want to have a conversation with you, I have to see you as just a human,” he said. “Not as part of some religion.”