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‘My Northwestern Family Stood Up For Me’

Associate Chaplain Tahera Ahmad sees a lesson in Northwestern’s support for her

The following is a reflection from Tahera Ahmad, director of interfaith engagement/associate chaplain at Northwestern University, thanking the University and its leaders for their strong support during a recent incident in which she was the victim of discrimination on a commercial airliner.


Dear Friends,

As many of you know, the past few days have been quite difficult. Last Friday (May 29) evening after a horrible experience on a flight, when I felt completely alone, President Morton Schapiro was the first to reach out to me. He told me he wished he had been on that plane with me and that he would stand up for me. Our Vice President of Student Affairs, Patricia Telles-Irvin, gave me comfort and encouraged me to stand for what's right. Chaplain Tim Stevens gave me sound advice, and Vice President for University Relations Alan Cubbage gave me the confidence and guidance to navigate the overwhelming media requests. Many faculty and staff members wrote public and private words of support. My Northwestern family stood up for me.

My story became headlines in the international news and on social media. I believe that for millions of people who supported me around the globe, my story resonated with them, because discrimination and hate is an unfortunate reality of our world. However, I think the most incredible outcome of my story is the power of solidarity and standing up for each other when something is wrong. Many Northwestern students have shared how proud they are of being at an institution that supported a member of its community in such a difficult time.

While the last few days have revealed the extreme hate and bigotry that still exists today, I cannot describe the love and support I have received from my Northwestern family. President Schapiro's letter to United Airlines was a very powerful expression of love and support for a member of the Northwestern family.

I was in tears of humility from the love I felt from his support and that of my Northwestern family. This empowered me to stay focused on the path to achieving what I believe would help engage an entire global community around treating each other with dignity and respect.

United Airlines issued a public apology and acknowledged the unfortunate discrimination and bigotry on the flight. I have responded to their statement and hope to continue working with them on ensuring and implementing ways to further learning and respecting each other regardless of our respective backgrounds.

Jon Stewart showed a great deal of support and featured my story on The Daily Show.

Here is the latest CNN coverage for the story.

I have never been more proud to be part of the Northwestern family. Thank you to all of you for standing by me during this very difficult time. I am hoping that my story will be a means to some beneficial conversations and meaningful dialogue that will continue to promote love and understanding.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Peace be with you all.


Tahera Ahmad
Director of Interfaith Engagement/Associate Chaplain
Northwestern University

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