Northwestern chaplain alleges discrimination on United flight

Shane McKeon, Assistant Campus Editor

A Northwestern chaplain set off calls for a boycott against United Airlines after she posted a statement on Facebook claiming a United flight attendant discriminated against her because of her religion.

Tahera Ahmad, the director of interfaith engagement in the Chaplain’s Office, wrote that the flight attendant refused to give her an unopened can of soda because it could be used as a weapon, despite giving the man next to her an unopened can of beer.

She also said another passenger told her to “shut the f— up” after calling her a Muslim and implying, because of that, she would use the can as a weapon.

“I felt the hate in his voice and his raging eyes,” she wrote. “I can’t help but cry on this plane because I thought people would defend me and say something.”

University President Morton Schapiro released a statement Monday saying he was disappointed at the “outrageous and discriminatory treatment” of Ahmad. He said she is an “esteemed leader” in the University community, but was treated with “a complete lack of respect.”

“I understand that the flight attendant and pilot both later apologized to Chaplain Ahmad. While that is a first step, it should not be the last,” the statement said. “Chaplain Ahmad should receive a more formal apology from United, along with assurances that United will train its staff so that she, and others, are never again subjected to such discrimination on a United flight.”

Ahmad’s story prompted calls to boycott the airline from Islamic studies scholar Omar Suleiman. Suleiman spoke on campus in November.

United said in a statement it hopes to speak to Ahmad and to “have the opportunity to welcome her back.”

“United is a company that strongly supports diversity and inclusion, and we and our partners do not discriminate against our employees or customers,” the airline said in the statement. “We are reaching out directly to Ms. Ahmad to get a better understanding of what occurred during the flight.”

Ahmad responded to United’s statement on Facebook, saying she wasn’t satisfied.

“It is truly disheartening when the discrimination of Americans as myself who are working hard everyday to promote dialogue and understanding is disregarded and trivialized,” she wrote. “This is not about a can of soda.”

Ahmad could not be reached for comment.

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