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Clouded campus climate for Jewish, Muslim, Arab students

Jewish, Muslim and Arab students find the University of California a safe and welcoming place. But their experiences are less positive when disputes over geopolitics in the Middle East and anti-Islamic sentiment fueled by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks spills onto campus.

That’s the conclusion of fact-finding teams from UC President Mark G. Yudof’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion. Teams visited UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Santa Cruz and UC San Diego over the past year and met with students to identify challenges and take steps to make campuses more welcoming and inclusive, while upholding free speech and academic freedom.

“For the most part, the reports indicate that students on our campuses feel safe, but there is much still to do to help students feel they belong,” said Jesse Bernal, UC’s interim diversity coordinator.

The full council and President Yudof were presented the reports at a July 9 meeting. They now are reviewing the findings and a series of recommendations for ways campuses can improve campus climate and cultural and religious accommodations for both groups.

Yudof created the advisory council in June 2010 in response to incidents of racial intolerance and homophobia on several UC campuses. The council’s goals are to identify, evaluate and share best practices for fostering open and inclusive campus environments for all students, faculty and staff.

Jewish students and Muslim and Arab students reported many parallels to the fact-finding teams, though the opinions expressed were by no means universal.

Both groups of students said UC could provide more and better accommodations for religious and cultural practices on campuses. These include having space available for meditation or prayer, more halal and kosher food options in dining halls, and appropriate gender-specific living space for Muslim women.

Students in both groups also said that while there is a great diversity of culture and political views within their communities, they often feel unfairly stereotyped.

Principal Editor Harry Mok’s full story on the UC Newsroom website includes links to the full reports.

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