Like the banners condemning hate and the chalked peace signs on sidewalks, the makeshift scarecrow that stands on the tree-lined Guilford College campus is a testament to the trauma gripping this small Quaker school, as well its determination to heal.
With a mop for hair and a cardboard-box face, the scarecrow wears a sign inviting students to "Write the definition of community." Pinned to the corkboard hanging around its neck are scraps of paper with words like "Tolerance," "Accepting of all," and "Well-being."
The community scarecrow, as it's called, was erected last week by students after at least five members of the school's football team were accused of attacking three Palestinian students. According to court documents, the players allegedly beat the students with feet, fists, and brass knuckles, while calling them "terrorists" and racial epithets.
This coming week, the FBI and local prosecutors will begin interviewing football players. They'll also interview the three alleged victims.
Five of the football players have already been charged with assault and battery, as well as "ethnic intimidation," North Carolina's formal name for its hate-crimes law. The FBI is also investigating whether the Palestinian students' civil rights were violated.
The altercation shocked the campus and the surrounding community – in no small measure because Guilford is dedicated to core Quaker values like diversity, integrity, and community. It also has a long history of recruiting Palestinians from the Friends Schools in the West Bank, offering them scholarships and paths to a new life.
National hate-crime experts contend the fact that such an alleged attack could take place at a school like Guilford – voted by Newsweek as the "hottest for social conscience" in 2006 – is a reflection of how deeply distrust of Islam now permeates the United States. For data, they point to polls, such as one done by CBS last April. It found that 45 percent of Americans now have a negative view of Islam – more than 9 percentage points higher than in the tense months following the 9/11 attacks. And a Washington Post poll found that the number of Americans who believe Islam stokes violence has more than doubled – from 14 percent in January 2002 to 33 percent in March 2006.