Esra Nur Altun, a 19-year-old psychology student at San Jose State University, was walking to her car on Wednesday, the morning after Donald Trump was elected president, when she said an unknown attacker came up to her and tried to yank off her hijab.
“He caused me to choke, and my back arched,” the Uzbekistan-born student told NBC Bay Area on Thursday morning. “I tried to pull away from him. I fell on my knees. He didn’t say anything. He ran away as I hit the floor.”
Altun said she was walking with friends — who all look out for each other when they go to the parking garage — up to the third floor of the West Garage at Fourth and San Salvador streets on Wednesday about 1:15 p.m. when the man tried to pull off her head scarf. She said she only saw the back of him, and not his face, but it looked like he was wearing a dark-colored hoodie, khaki pants and black Vans.
She said the campus alert had the wrong date of the attack, which the university first reported as Tuesday, before all the ballots had been counted.
“I don’t know why he did it,” she said. “But it is a weird coincidence that it happened after Donald Trump was elected."
Trump has been a fan favorite of many in the “alt right” movement, and his calls to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, and his desire to ban Muslims from entering the country have ignited a fresh hope among neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, which endorsed his rise to presidency. The Southern Poverty Law Center this week said there has been a "rash of hate crimes" extraordinary around the country.
Trump has not openly courted white supremacists to support him, but he has also been quiet in telling them to stop.
As a result, Nazi-era symbols and calls for a white America have cropped up this election season, and now, with Trump's elected rise to power. For example, a wall at Canisius College near Buffalo was vandalized this week with the words “Make America White Again,” along with swastikas. A San Francisco man flew a swastika flag from his home on Wednesday afternoon for a short time, not because he supports the Nazis, but because he was trying to forewarn the country what might happen under a Trump administration.
Despite what happened, Altun said that she does not believe San Jose State is a haven for bigotry. That's despite the fact that the campus became a national focal point of hate in 2013, when three white students were convicted of misdemeanor battery charges after they tormented an African-American freshman by putting a bike lock around his neck and called him a slave.
“This is not a racist place, “ she said. “Look at all the support I’ve been getting. Word is traveling and people are offering to walk me to my car. I just never thought something like this would happen in campus. I wish the attacker knew what Islam was, what it really means.”
So Altun and her friends are trying to explain their religion to anyone who is confused or doesn’t understand. They are speaking up.
"Come at us," Muslim Student Association president Doaa Abdelrahman said rhetorically to Trump and other bigots at a rally Wednesday afternoon on campus. "Whether you're black, Muslim, an immigrant, disabled, be proud of who you are. You have nothing to be ashamed of. No matter what, Islam is a beautiful, peaceful religion and I will always be proud to be a Muslim."
Altun and Abdelrahaman said they are setting up meetings with Kathleen Wong (Lau), the school’s chief diversity officer, as well as the Council on American Islamic Relations in Santa Clara, to see how to move forward.
“I want to know how we’re going to be protected,” Abdelrahaman said. “I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to any other minority.”
For the university's part, an email was sent out after the attack saying that officials are "closely monitoring the situation" because "no one should experience this kind of behavior at San Jose State."
Altun’s parents, Mahmut and Saule Altun, who are Kurdish and Russian, also plan to write Congress to say that intolerance against minorities must not be tolerated. CAIR spokeswoman Zahra Billoo praised Abdelrahman and others speaking up for being so bold and said she'd help the students work with the university to protect them in the "aftermath of the election."
“Racism existed before Trump,” Abdelrahaman said. “But he is behind this gas of fire where he keeps adding fuel to it.”