Not funny, Middle-East students tell Ensoc

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 06/10/2014

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A group of Middle Eastern students say they were offended and isolated by a controversial Canterbury University club event that attracted nearly 100 complaints.

Some have joined more than 500 people in signing a petition "against racism and Islamophobia" in the Engineering Society (Ensoc) RoUndie 500. The event caused a stir with feminists last month because some cars and costumes poked fun at women and minority groups. Ensoc encouraged themes "the more inappropriate the better".

One car was called "Taliband", with musicians in Taliban dress with ammunition strapped around their waists, and another was the Gaza Strip-ers, featuring ladies in mini-skirt burqas and men without pants wearing teatowels on their heads.

Nine Egyptian, Palestinian and Syrian students last week posted a public letter on the Ensoc Facebook page saying "insensitivity and racism are not laughing matters".

"The event not only offended us but also made us feel isolated.

"I would like everyone who has somewhat enjoyed the student's (sic) sense of humour to consider the way members of society, associated with these beliefs, feel as well as the impacts on their daily lives and the way they are viewed."

When the letter was deleted soon after, its main author, Egyptian student Sandra Iskander, had "no words" and said it was a "perfect illustration of our point".

Hers was one of more than 600 signatures from all over the world on a "Take action against racism and Islamophobia at Ensoc's RoUndie 500" petition on change.org yesterday.

An attached open letter to university vice-chancellor Rod Carr said: "While these costumes may have been intended as ‘just a joke' or ‘a bit of fun', they portray stereotypes that are damaging to Muslims and people of colour, and further perpetuate racism and Islamophobia in our community, and alienate Muslim students and students of colour at Canterbury University."

Carr said the university took seriously its desire to create an inclusive environment, and was working with students to promote better understanding of the "obligations and self restraint that come with the rights to freely express opinions".

Ensoc president Guy Wilson, who with his executive committee last week told The Press it was working on improving its public image, said procedures were put in place to prevent the event from offending again.

A university spokesman said the statement from the Middle Eastern students "express clearly the impacts on some of our students from this issue", and it welcomed the discussion.

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It had fielded 99 complaints following the Ensoc event, and was preparing a final report to be released to the clubs concerned in the next few days.

- The Press

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