In response to last week’s apparent hate crimes – a racist threat on social media directed at a specific group of students, followed by apparent arson in a student’s car – the University took actions this week by holding a ‘We Are One Vigil,’ and also canceling classes Thursday afternoon for a time of reflection, learning opportunities and community growth for students, faculty, staff and administrators.
While the University has taken steps toward assessing the needs and addressing the issues of cultural competency and inclusion on our campus, we hope to continue to see urgent and meaningful progress toward an environment that includes and honors all of its students in all of our diversity.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacist groups have continued to escalate propaganda campaigns targeting U.S. college campuses with racist images and words that attack minority groups, including Jews, Blacks, Muslims, non-white immigrants and the LGBTQ community. Incidents have increased by 77 percent during the 2017-2018 academic year.
As a University we do no want to contribute to rising hate crime statistics. It is critical that the administration continues to respond with intention and purpose – and are receptive to students who are voicing their concerns on campus.
Students whose lives were threatened last week were left feeling confused about how to handle the situation in which they were placed.
A student whose life was directly threatened last Thursday said she was not contacted by University administration until 24 hours after she received the threat.
“I am not really hearing anything from administration on what I can do to protect myself,” said a student who asked her name not be published for safety reasons.
She said this lack of attention has been her experience for years, that for years she’s been “traumatized or triggered, and when I try to tell people I am invalidated.”
In an email Tuesday, four days after the initial incident, President Devorah Lieberman took a strong stand: “The University has zero tolerance for hateful acts, and students, faculty, or staff found to have engaged in such behavior will be dealt with accordance with university policy.”
In the days that followed, administrators have done better, as demonstrated by Thursday’s various and valuable workshops, which were well-attended and where various factions of the community expressed their real fears and concerns, made suggestions and also proposed some creative solutions to the University’s deep diversity disconnect. This level of action, where we all stop to consider these serious problems, and work toward solutions must continue.
The University’s strong condemnation of the actions of the individual(s) who committed the alleged hate crimes, and taking an honest look at a student body that needs guidance and support, was a good start, but just a start.
Leiberman’s words announcing Thursday’s events as “neither the beginning nor the end of our collaborative efforts toward fulfilling the university’s core value of diversity and inclusivity,” must be taken seriously, and followed with strong and decisive action.
The University will have to address these changes at a faster rate than other changes, because of the seriousness of the situation and attitudes, which came to a head last week, but have been bubbling under the surface for years.
We need to continue to assess what the University needs in order to become a more diverse and inclusive campus where students feel they are safe to speak their thoughts and, more importantly, safe to be themselves around campus.