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 Sunday, June 26, 2005

American Students in Queensland Quitting School Due to Anti-US Slurs by Australian Students

  Read here original article by Ainsley Pavey in Sunday Times

26 June 2005

AMERICAN students are quitting Queensland universities in the face of hate attacks by Australians angry at US President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.

One university has launched an investigation into claims an American student returned to the US after suffering six months of abuse at a residential college in Brisbane.

American students have told The Sunday Mail the verbal attacks are unbearable and threatening to escalate into physical violence.

Griffith University student Ian Wanner, 19, from Oregon, said abusive Australian students had repeatedly called him a "sepo" – short for septic tank. "It is so disrespectful. It's not exactly the most welcoming atmosphere here," he said.

The Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission has described the abuse as "horrible" and says it could be classed as racial vilification.

The abuse problem is so prevalent that US students are being given formal briefings before leaving home on how to cope with abusive Australians.

Mr Wanner said even female Australian students were verbally abusive. He warned the problem could "escalate into a very large brawl".

"There has already been confrontations between people," he said.

A female American student from Griffith, who wished to remain unnamed, said she had met some "exceptional" people in Australia – but was leaving this month in shock over her treatment. She said she was desperate to go home after the slurs, which also spilled over at pubs in central Brisbane. She said:

"They basically picked on me. At first, I thought it was a joke. Then I just had it out with them and told them I came here to be treated respectfully.

I have had a few incidents in bars. I had a guy and he heard my accent and he said: 'I hate your president. I hate your country.' "
Another Griffith student has already returned to the US after enduring six months of abuse at the university's residential college in Brisbane.

All the students received counselling before arriving and were warned of the backlash against the US.

They said they were advised not to carry any items that would identify their nationality.

A postgraduate American student at the University of Queensland's St Lucia campus, in Brisbane's west, has also complained to the Australian-American Association of being "persecuted" and subjected to "name-calling" by Australian students.

Another American studying at UQ said attitudes towards him were "scary". He said:

"It's unbelievable. It's been war. People are scared. It is hard to be an American in Australia at the moment, it is really hard.

It varies with different people, but you have to be quiet and try not to draw attention to yourself."

Australian-American Association state president Marylou Badeaux said anti-American sentiment had reached a climax over the war in Iraq.

She said attacks from the general public were mostly sedate – but had grown into open hostility at several Queensland universities.

In some cases, US students and academics were being "persecuted" for merely having an American accent.

"They are taking it out on people who may or may not agree but just because they have an American accent, they are being persecuted," she said.

Ms Badeaux said long-time US residents in Australia noticed attitudes towards them fluctuated with US Government policy. "It all depends on what the policies of the US government are at the time," she said.

Queensland Anti-Discrimination deputy commissioner Neroli Holmes said the alleged labelling of students as "sepos" could be classed as racial vilification under anti-discrimination laws.

Racial vilification included public comment which incited hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule of a person or group based on race or nationality. "It sounds quite horrible," Ms Holmes said.

Griffith University spokeswoman Nicola Collier-Jackson said an investigation had been launched into the American abuse claims.

She said the university had a zero-tolerance policy to harassment.

"We don't accept it at all. We will investigate it. We need to get to the bottom of it," she said.

The Colorado-based Australearn organisation – which teaches "cultural adjustment" to US students before they come to Australia – started warning in January of attitudes towards Americans over Iraq.

Australearn's Australian director, Shelia Houston, said the briefings aimed to give American students "coping strategies" in the face of an attack.

She said some (American) students suffered culture shock because of the belief that everyone loved Americans.

"We are giving them the heads up that it is a bit more heated because of the war in Iraq," Ms Houston said.

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