By Marc Abizeid
Questions of racial insensitivity arose last month when dining service workers distributed stacks of controversial flyers during orientation week.
The flyers depicted a picture of a Middle-Eastern student dressed in a genie costume, above the name “Al Boo Boo Ahmed,” a fictional student from the “Merrill Mafia.”
The flyers were meant to discourage students from offering their meal plans to other students. And though the flyers were produced with humorous intent, many students saw the flyers as offensive toward Arabs and Muslims.
Fourth-year College Ten student Brett Petersen first saw the flyers during orientation week. “I find it ironic that a university glorifying ideas of diversity and open-mindedness can allow such a blatantly racist depiction to be distributed to the dining halls where it was exposed to literally thousands of people,” he said.
Dining hall staff began removing flyers from tables on Tuesday, Sept. 25, after receiving complaints from Campus Housing staff.
College Ten student, and dining hall employee, Sarah Wellberg was disappointed to see the flyers displayed in her workplace. “It just goes to show that even in liberal areas and after all the progress we’ve made with civil rights, there are still biases, discrimination, and racism in our society,” she said.
Others, like fourth-year Cowell student and dining hall worker Amy Farsheed, offered a more moderate response: “I can see how it can be humorous, but for others during the season of Ramadan, I can also see how it can be offensive.”
According to Dining Services Director Scott Berlin, the student who dressed as the Middle Eastern genie was the mind behind the flyers. “We love having students because of their phenomenal skill and technical ability, and really their ability to connect to [other students],” Berlin said.
Although Berlin did express regret over the decision to distribute the flyers, calling the ordeal “unfortunate” and insisting that Dining Services acted with “an absence of malice.”
Since the controversy, Dining Services has replaced the flyers with those now depicting Sammy the Slug instead of “Al Boo Boo Ahmed,” and has posted a written response at the entrance of all campus dining halls: “We have pride in and celebrate our cultural diversity within our department and the community at large.”
Berlin added, “I certainly want to apologize to anyone who was offended by this and I can understand how they were [offended].”