Last Friday, two men were arrested after they pulled off a Muslim student’s niqab outside the Strand campus of King’s College London (KCL).
The men allegedly approached a stall run by the Islamic Society and started throwing leaflets from the stall on the floor, as well as directing racially abusive and threatening language towards the students hosting it.
The female students targeted were simply handing out Islamic literature as part of the KCL Islamic Society’s (ISOC) ‘Discover Islam Week’ when the assault occurred.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first act of anti-Muslim hatred recorded at KCL, with Student Rights reporting on the defacing of a sign for a Muslim prayer room in March 2014.
Last year, we also reported on threatening graffiti towards Muslims at student halls at the University of Birmingham and hateful anti-Muslim comments posted on the London South Bank University Islamic Society’s Facebook page.
While relatively rare, these examples are deeply worrying and reflect a national rise in anti-Muslim hate incidents, something universities must take into account when considering the risks posed to student events or activities.
According to a statement issued by KCL on 5th March, following a report of the harassment to security staff two security managers and a senior member of staff “positioned themselves between both parties and attempted to defuse the situation”, as did at least one student.
The KCL statement also said:”We are mindful of concerns raised around this incident and would like to reassure our staff and students that the safety and security of our campuses is of the utmost importance.” However, we will also be reviewing the incident, including the CCTV evidence, to establish precisely what happened and further improve student safety on campus.”
Despite this reassurance, an open letter to KCL Principal Professor Edward Byrne from KCL ISOC has asked him to explain how the university will support students and what measures will be put in place to prevent such events happening again.
The letter also raised concerns about the security staff’s “lack of urgency” when it came to protecting the students, and repeated student claims security only stepped in when a white student was abused.
This is a serious allegation and steps should be taken to ensure security staff are able to deal more effectively with such situations in future, including potentially providing security staff for all student activities taking place outside the campus.
While this is unlikely to satisfy the ISOC, whose letter criticising KCL attacks the presence of security staff at previous student protests, it is important institutions are prepared should people seek to target students.