21 Muslim cadets leave N.Y. maritime college

They allege classmates beat, harassed them

September 26, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- Twenty-one Muslim cadets from the Middle East, who said they were harassed and beaten by their classmates at the State University of New York Maritime College, left the college and moved to a hotel Friday night. The students had declined to attend class since Tuesday.

The departure of the Muslim freshmen, and the dispiriting circumstances surrounding it, sent ripples of introspection through the barracks in the Bronx.

Cadets at Maritime train for careers in the shipping industry in a four-year program that resembles that of the Naval Academy.

But the structured routine was disrupted Tuesday when the Muslim freshmen said they were quitting the college, saying they had been abused and beaten by classmates after being subjected to insulting remarks about their religion and limited English skills.

One cadet, Abdullah al-Shammari, 24, of Saudi Arabia, said he was attacked the day before the announcement by a classmate who wore a ski mask. The attack was the second reported in two weeks. In the first report, Sept. 13, two Muslim cadets said five assailants beat them in their bedroom.

None of the cadets was injured seriously, and the college has vowed to expel cadets involved. A campus police investigation is continuing, and the office of the chancellor of the State University, John W. Ryan, is reviewing the case. Adm. David C. Brown, the college's president, said the reviews had found no indication that the incidents were intended as hazing, which the college prohibits.

But the Middle Eastern students said they believed that their ethnicity made them targets.

Many of the Americans were baffled and wondered whether the Arab students had been adequately prepared for the school. Others said they were sad to see their foreign peers quit. Midshipman Ryan Kenna, 18, a freshman, said he had made friends with some of the Middle Eastern cadets and would miss them for reasons personal and professional.

"The Middle East is such a big shipping point, it would only benefit us to learn from them now, instead of us going out into the industry and having such a big culture shock," he said.

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