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Alleged bias incidents probed at UM

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Days after authorities learned hateful emails were sent to University of Michigan students, the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan is calling on the public to come forward with tips on an alleged bias incident targeting Muslims at the Ann Arbor campus.

Students learned that a visitor to a Shapiro Undergraduate Library reflection room had urinated on a prayer rug Sunday afternoon, reported the University of Michigan Campus Division of Public Safety and Security. The rug is one Muslims use to pray on, CAIR-MI said in a statement.

“Campus reflection rooms are also an inclusive space, shared among students of all religions and spiritualities; including Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, non-religious, spiritual etc. As such, vandalism to a campus reflection room not only adversely impacts the Muslim student community, but the greater university community,” the Muslim Students’ Association and the University of Michigan Islamic Society of Ahlulbayt said in a statement this week.

“Safeguarding our places of personal, spiritual and faith based prayer and reflection is integral to fostering a diverse and tolerant Michigan.”

Authorities are probing the incident police described as bias-motivated.

“Attacks toward members of our community will not be tolerated,” said Robert Sellers, the University of Michigan’s chief diversity officer and vice provost for equity and inclusion, in a statement. “This kind of behavior is abhorrent and not indicative of our values as an institution.”

CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid on Thursday said his group urges anyone with information to contact authorities.

“Students on our university campuses should feel safe to express their faiths without fear of intimidation or harassment,” he said.

Walid also noted students recently received anti-Semitic and anti-African-American emails mentioning ethnic extermination and “Heil Trump!”

About 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, UM officials were alerted about “several racist and anti-Semitic emails sent to email groups within the College of Engineering,” the school said in a statement this week.

Investigators determined the emails were forged or “spoofed” — meaning a header was doctored so the message appears to have originated with another source. One of the emails was made to look as if sent by engineering professor J. Alex Halderman, an election cybersecurity expert, the university reported.

In a statement Wednesday, Halderman confirmed the emails weren’t from him or a PhD student whose name appeared on some messages. “As I teach in my computer security classes, it takes very little technical sophistication to forge the sender’s address in an email,” he added.

University police and the FBI are investigating the incident.

UM President Mark Schlissel also condemned the emails in a tweet this week.