Written by Tanya Somanader
In 2008, African-American Muslim student Balayla Ahmad enrolled in Connecticut’s University of Bridgeport with hopes of becoming a chiropractor. Instead, she became of a victim of sexual harassment. Distressed by the repeated sexual advances and “graphic offensive comments” of a male student, Ahmad reported the harassment and “fears for her safety” to multiple teachers, who urged her to say nothing, and finally the university’s president and dean. The dean told Ahmad, “My hands are tied. What do you suggest I do?”
Rather than having her claims addressed, Ahmad received allegations of her own. Learning of her report, Ahmad’s harasser decided to falsely accuse her of terrorism to the FBI. And rather than fully investigate what was happening, the University of Bridgeport just expelled Ahmad altogether:
After reporting the sexual harassment in April 2009, Ahmad said she was approached by two university security directors who told her someone had made allegations against her and they threatened to call the FBI and have her arrested.
Later, two FBI agents knocked on Ahmad’s apartment door, questioned her and left a business card, according to the lawsuit. She said she learned that her harasser or his associates had fabricated a story falsely accusing her of being a terrorist in apparent retaliation for having made a sexual harassment complaint against him.
“Ahmad was racially profiled and discriminated against because of her race, color and ethnic identity as an African American Muslim and labeled a terrorist based on false accusations provided by the harasser and adopted without adequate investigation by the university,” the lawsuit states.
Ahmad asked that the university provide her with an off-site proctor for her exams, but she said the university told her in April 2009 that her sexual harassment complaint had been closed and that she was being referred to a disciplinary committee. In June, she said the university dismissed her.
Ahmad filed a lawsuit against the university last week for failing to investigate her claims, instead showing “deliberate indifference” to her plight. The lawsuit claims that the college even “recklessly disseminated false accusations by the harasser that they had good reason to believe were unreliable and threatened her with arrest by the FBI.”
Ahmad’s lawyer, Bradford Conover noted that because Ahmad regularly wears the hijab, she was easily targeted for her religion. “[B]ecause of that, she ended up getting targeted based on some reckless accusations against her,” Conover said. “They never investigated it. Had they done so, they would have discovered the accusations against her were false and she had been subject to sexual harassment.”
This post was originally published by ThinkProgress.
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