SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Idaho State University’s president said on Thursday he had been in talks with Saudi and Kuwaiti education officials seeking to allay concerns about students from those countries facing anti-Muslim harassment in the college town of Pocatello.
The discussions with officials from the two Gulf states, which together account for about 1,000 of the foreign students enrolled at Idaho State, were disclosed as school officials sought to determine the origin of anti-Muslim propaganda being distributed anonymously via DVDs on campus.
Separately, police in Pocatello have opened a hate-crime investigation into an attack on a man of Middle Eastern descent who was stabbed in the arm earlier this week for no other apparent reason than his appearance, Police Chief Scott Marchand said.
The off-campus assault was reported to police by the hospital where the man, who was not a university student, was taken for treatment, Marchand said.
Idaho State President Arthur Vailas said he was unaware of any individual complaints of anti-Muslim discrimination or harassment other than those cited in recent media accounts, such as a New York Times story last month about campus tensions faced by Saudi and Kuwaiti students.
“I expect all students to bring forth their concerns. The only way we can help is for people to come forward and we can look into the cases,” Vailas told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.
But Vailas said the university was consulting with higher education officials from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, whose students account for nearly 10 percent of the school’s 11,000 undergraduates, to address concerns about Islamaphobia.
The Arabic-language Kuwaiti daily newspaper Al Qabas and English-language outlet Gulf News reported on Thursday that the two Gulf nations were suspending scholarships earmarked for Idaho State and transferring their respective students at that school to other universities.
Kuwait’s higher education minister was quoted as saying some 400 students were facing racial discrimination at the Pocatello campus
Vailas said he had no indication that the 535 Kuwaiti students or 481 Saudi students were being transferred elsewhere.
The U.S. attorney for Idaho planned to meet publicly with international students from predominantly Islamic countries as part of a push announced this week by the U.S. Justice Department to stem discrimination against Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian Americans following militant attacks in Brussels, Paris and San Bernardino, California.
Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall in Dubai; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney
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