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Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015

To the VCU and VCU Health Communities,

As we prepare to spend time with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday, it is impossible not to turn our thoughts to the tragic events in Beirut, Bamako and Paris. Our hearts go out to the victims and their loved ones.

These are frightening times, and how we address concerns for our security says everything about what we stand for as a community.

I am hearing growing concerns from our American and international students, particularly those who are identifiably Muslim, of an increasingly hostile climate on our university campuses and in the community.

Undoubtedly, this ill treatment comes from a combination of fear and ignorance. Most Americans know very little about Islam. Less than 1 percent of the country’s total population is Muslim, so few people have had contact with Muslim neighbors or co-workers.

Most of what we think we know is from the media and images of violence associated with Islam. Often overlooked is that the most frequent victims of terrorist groups such as Al Qaida, the Taliban and ISIS are Muslims. Such groups do not represent Islam or Muslims. There is real danger in confusing the barbaric acts of radical groups with the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world today who are citizens of good standing in their nations and who abhor this treachery along with the rest of the world.

Our Muslim classmates, colleagues, neighbors and friends wish for peace to the same degree as the rest of us. As a community, we at VCU must unite to insist on building and leading a climate of mutual respect and create a safe place for the free exchange of ideas and viewpoints to include religious and cultural differences.

We will be supporting and encouraging a series of events on campus in the next semester for students, faculty and staff to engage in dialogue, learn from each other, and lead our community by example on this important issue.

Sincerely,

Michael Rao, Ph.D.
President, VCU and VCU Health