By ZEINAB NAJM
A Henry Ford College student has filed a complaint after his business professor allegedly went on an Islamophobic rant in front of other students on Oct. 31.
Ali Jaber, 26, of Dearborn Heights filed the civil rights complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Executive Director Dawud Walid said Nov. 12.
“We find it reprehensible that Henry Ford College has not taken this issue seriously in terms of discrimination against our client,” Walid said. “What’s even more reprehensible about this situation is that Henry Ford College resides in Dearborn, in a large percentage of the student population of Henry Ford College are American Muslims.”
Jaber told the media during a press conference at CAIR-MI in Farmington Hills that while asking his Introduction to Business Professor Michael Thomas for help regarding a Facebook page promoting Lebanon tourism, he was questioned because of his Lebanese heritage.
Jaber said that after the Oct. 31 class, he asked Thomas, “Since you’re a past HR manager and have experience working with non-profit organizations how can I promote my Facebook page or can I work with your non-profit, partner with you so we can start a non-profit to help homeless families in need?”
Jaber said he showed Thomas his Facebook page — which he said was not political — and Thomas changed his attitude and became aggressive while asking questions.
“The professor asked why Jaber hated America, why would he support terrorism, if he knew that all of the Muslims and Arabs in Dearborn are on the government watch list, telling Jaber that he bets he can’t leave the United States, that if Jaber’s name was checked with law enforcement right now he’d be on a watch list, and sending money or supporting Lebanon is a sign of radicalism implying that he had been somehow radicalized because he has the page for Lebanon,” CAIR-MI Staff Attorney Amy Doukoure said. “He told Jaber, ‘I work for law enforcement, I find you to be very suspicious, I’m going to keep my eye on you,’ which Jaber took as a threat.”
When Jaber was being questioned by Thomas, he recalls saying, “Why am I being questioned in my country? Who are you to question me? This is my county, like you were born here I was born here, too. I got nothing against the United States.”
During the press conference, Jaber was asked if any students who were in the classroom spoke up, and he said one of them did, saying the questions and comments being made by Thomas were not fair.
Jaber followed up the next day with an email to Thomas, when he was told his email was too long and that Jaber needed to be able to handle the tough questions America was posing about people like him. In addition, Thomas allegedly told Jaber to seek help.
Thomas has been working at HFC for at least six years, Doukoure said. When asked if he had any previous issues with Thomas, Jaber said he hadn’t, and that he’s even called Thomas his favorite professor, noting he has emails to show that because he looked up to Thomas.
Jaber has a 3.7 grade point average at HFC and is a member of the honor society at the college.
“I have never experienced such an incident before in my life and my grades are being effected, I’m being effected, I have emotional problems right now,” Jaber said. “I went and seen my doctor and he said I have a condition that’s called post traumatic stress and this incident has caused a hostile learning environment for me. I can’t focus anymore. I don’t feel safe going to HFC anymore and feel safe interacting with anyone anymore.”
Doukoure said Jaber filed a complaint with the Title IX officer for discrimination with HFC about two weeks ago. As of press time Thomas was “still teaching on campus and interacting with Muslim students where he still has the ability to spew hateful, despicable rhetoric,” Doukoure added.
Since the alleged comments were made, Jaber elected to attend another business class with only five weeks left in the semester with a different subject matter and book, Doukoure said.
Jaber went to the school of business dean a few days following the incident saying he wasn’t comfortable staying in Thomas’ class. Doukoure said Jaber was told his options were to remain in Thomas’ class or that there was another business class, which he agreed to switch to even though it was late in the semester.
Regarding the class switch HFC Marketing and Communications Director Rhonda DeLong said, “The student has been given all due process in all possible ways personally and academically at the college we treat all our students with respected dignity,” HFC Marketing and Communications Director Rhonda DeLong said regarding the class switch.
“I never really in my life thought that something like this would happen to me,” Jaber said. “I would always hear it on the news that racism is real, but I never really thought I would be a victim of this racism. As a professor who has all this experience and has been at HFC a lot of years — I didn’t expect that.”
Walid said Thomas at least owes Jaber an apology, and besides disciplinary action against professor, there needs to be campus-wide training for staff, administration and teachers because a similar incident should not be repeated at HFC.
“To have a professor at the college who is creating a hostile learning environment for a Muslim student is completely reprehensible,” Walid said. “What is also very disappointing about this case in terms of discrimination against our client is that the professor happens to be an African American and we would expect that a person of color, a minority who understands the negative impact of racial discrimination and bias especially in learning environments would know better than to pick on and to bully an Arab American student.”
In a statement on Nov. 12, DeLong said the college is aware of the complaint being made against one of its instructors and that they take all allegations seriously.
“We are following our due-process procedures, which include a full investigation of the alleged incident,” she said. “When the investigation is complete, we will take any actions that are necessary and appropriate in accordance with the college policies and mission, as well as state and federal law.”
No lawsuit has been filed as a result of the allegations being made.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])