University police investigate assault, role of bias

Shruti Mathur

University police are investigating a possible bias-related assault, after one University student allegedly verbally and physically assaulted two other students in the early morning of Sept. 15.

The Minneapolis Police Department filed an incident report on Sept. 16 and turned it over to University police for an investigation.

In their statement of conflict given to police, sophomore Achint Agarwal and junior Akhil Mehra – both of Indian descent – said they were verbally assaulted because of their race by a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, 1821 University Ave. S.E., at approximately 2 a.m.

“(The assault is) a gross misdemeanor if it’s determined to be racially motivated,” University police Lt. Chuck Miner said.

The fraternity member has not been formally charged for the alleged assault and did not return phone calls.

Mehra, an economics major, said he was petting a dog in front of the house when the student shouted a number of profanities at him and told him to get away from the dog. Mehra said he thought he misunderstood because he was shocked to hear those words.

Mehra said he and the student began to exchange words, at which point Agarwal also entered the argument. Mehra and Agarwal, a management information systems major, said the student made comments such as, “What are you doing here anyway? Go back to your own country. Why don’t you go and blow up another two buildings?”

They said the student punched Mehra in the face three times and pushed Agarwal, and then other fraternity members and an unidentified female broke up the altercation at which point Mehra and Agarwal walked away.

Jonathan Joannides, president of Alpha Tau Omega, said the incident was not racially motivated.

“In essence, this was no more than a shoving match over a dog,” Joannides said. “One of our members felt a need to come to the defense of another member’s dog.

“The conflict was not race-related and not fraternity-related. Everyone walked away. We are sorry for any bad feelings that may have been a result of this.”

Greek Affairs Coordinator Mandi Watkins said the fraternity’s governing board is taking action regarding the reported assault.

“At this point in time, we don’t know the full story,” she said. “I feel I cannot comment since the investigation is in progress.”

Mehra, a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity, said Joannides called the president of his fraternity to apologize for the incident. Agarwal said he did not receive an apology.

Mehra came to the University a year ago to study. He and Agarwal said they have concerns about community backlash against other Indians and those with darker skin, but they want to raise awareness of the situation.

“We know this is not common,” said Agarwal, who moved to Wisconsin from India when he was seven years old. “But we don’t want to die over this.”

He also said many people don’t realize racial discrimination is still occurring because victims are too scared to report it.

Sulieman Nader, president of the Minnesota International Student Association, said as a representative of international students, he was angered by the incident.

Nader said he once was physically attacked, and still feels animosity from other people. He said he plans to organize a peaceful rally to send a message and raise awareness of the difficulty facing some international students.

“Think a thousand times before you touch us,” Nader said.

“An assault against us is an assault against our community,” Mehra said.

Brijdeep Bhasin, president of the Indian Student Association, said he thought the backlash would have stopped a few days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“It’s scary to think, ‘When will it stop?’ ” he said. “Do we want someone killed before (the University does) something about it?”

Mehra said the incident has left him with second thoughts about life not only in Minnesota, but also in the United States as a whole. He said he receives better treatment in India than in America.

“Land of opportunity? What opportunity does a brown person have here?” he said. “These guys who believe in American ideals are not living up to it. I don’t understand.”