Complaint alleges university did little to protect students from hate after raising questions over Israel-related events
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Two Palestinian women who filed separate civil rights complaints against the University of Illinois Chicago have shared their story for the first time.
They say they were censored and discriminated against by the university, speaking exclusively with ABC7 Chicago.
The women behind the complaints filed in 2022 and 2023 said they experienced a pattern of racial discrimination by the university, including one alleged incident of physical assault by campus police. They say they faced years of death threats on campus with little to no help from the university.
Video from last January shows the moment members of the Students for Justice in Palestine say they were confronted and detained by police.
"When our hijabi member tried to walk out, they grabbed her by her hijab," UIC student Soha Khatib said. "We filed a report with the police department, saying that this was discrimination and like, misuse of force."
Khatib said the incident happened after the students were peacefully putting up flyers, protesting a university study abroad trip to Israel. She said students who carry a Palestinian ID aren't allowed into Israeli territory, calling the trip unethical.
"So we joined an informational session for the study abroad trip," Khatib said. "It wasn't until we changed our names to things like Alyssa and Haley and Rebecca, that we were actually immediately allowed in, which we found to be very ironic and obviously racist."
That is what led Khatib and six other students to file a federal civil rights complaint against the school in September 2023, and it wasn't the first.
"Because of this, the Office of Civil Rights is now looking into cases that they ignored," UIC graduate Laila Zayed said. "I submitted my report a year and a half ago."
Zayed's complaint is now being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education. It stems from when she says she was censored during a virtual event an Israeli scholar was invited to speak at.
"They asked, 'will Palestine be receiving COVID vaccines from Israel?' and the Israeli medical professional said, 'why don't the other Arab countries do it?'" Zayed said.
She said Palestinian students were quickly removed from the Zoom meeting or muted altogether and then ignored when asking for support or protection from the school.
"We received sexual assault threats," Zayed said. "We received death threats. Several of us were doxxed."
A spokesperson for UIC issued a statement to ABC7.
"We deeply care about all members of our community... (but) refrains from commenting on matter related to ongoing investigations," the statement read in part.
Both complaints happened before Hamas' attack on October 7.
Zayed and Khatib said this shows there was always discrimination, but now it is worse. They're combining forces, issuing their complaints as one, awaiting the day they see change on campus.
"I honestly feel like it takes somebody like getting murdered right in front of them for them to finally realize that this is an issue," Khatib said.