Bias Incident Update

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Student leaders meet to discuss Bias Incident. MADISON DUDLEY/THE DEPAUW
Student leaders meet to discuss Bias Incident. MADISON DUDLEY/THE DEPAUW
                             MADISON DUDLEY/THE DEPAUW

DePauw University has been rocked by targeted hate speech, and in the week since the news broke, there has been a mix of information from students, faculty and staff about how to move forward.

On Sept. 4 the nametags of students of color living on the second floor of Humbert Hall were ripped off of their doors. One student was targeted specifically, with the words “H8” and the n-word written on her whiteboard.

The first public recognition about the incident from the University came when President Mark McCoy sent an email to the student body at 10:36 a.m. on Sept. 6, two days after it was initially brought to the attention of both the administration and Public Safety.  

The email referred to the act as a “bias incident involving graffiti in a residence hall.” Later the same day, Assistant Dean of Students, Jeannette Johnson-Licon, forwarded an email she received from the president of the African American Association of Students (AAAS), junior Shirley Tandy, about a meeting (AAAS) planned in the Student Activities Space to discuss what happened during the weekend.

On Sept. 7, McCoy sent another email to students titled “Dear Campus Community,” in which he included a list of possible suggestions for how to handle the current situation and prevent a similar one from happening. McCoy also called the incident an act of “racial hate speech” and ended the email with an anecdote about his conversations with his family about race.

Dean of Students, Myrna Hernandez, also sent out a series of emails about plans for action, including a Campus Climate Team and their events leading up to the Day of Dialogue on Sept. 28, along with an update on the investigation about what the University has done to find the student or students supposedly responsible. As of now, no person has been held responsible.

This response was thought by some students to be unsatisfactory. A meeting of student leaders was organized for last Saturday in the Student Activities Space. The meeting was restricted to only students, faculty and staff were not allowed, and refreshments were provided by the Hartman House.

“It’s not graffiti, it’s a hate crime,” said junior Greisy Genao to a group of close to 30 students Saturday morning.

The meeting was organized by junior Kenneth Cruz. “I felt like nobody was planning a meeting quite along the lines of taking action,” said Cruz. The meeting discussed ways the student body could come together to make a statement to others in the DePauw community.

Ideas that were tossed around included bringing back the #DearDePauw hashtag.

The hashtag was popular last school year as a way for students to vent their frustrations and tell stories about their treatment at DePauw, working to incorporate DePauw’s Greek life, contacting family members to write letters to the administration, and planning demonstrations for the weekend of Sept. 24 and beyond.

This is not the first time there have been racial tensions on DePauw’s campus in recent years. In spring of 2014, then junior Ashton Johnson wrote an opinion for The DePauw titled “Excuse me, but your privilege is in our way” in which she asked members of the DePauw community to recognize their privilege. Johnson’s article was met with backlash that caused tension and conversations around campus. Johnson went on to win the Walker Cup and was featured in the Huffington Post.

Spring of 2015 brought the first DePauw Day of Dialogue which created campus controversy as it was first a required event, and then made not required, but heavily encouraged by the administration.

In fall of 2015 Brother Jed, a radical evangelical Christian visited DePauw’s campus to “preach,” resulting in a student protest and eventually an African American male student being wrestled to the ground by Greencastle police.

The incident in Humbert Hall is only the latest in a long list of campus tensions.

In 2014, the multicultural feminist club, Feminista! proposed a list of demands to then President Brian Casey and his administration. Some of these demands included diversity training for faculty members and the creation of a multicultural credit, now known as the Power, Privilege and Diversity credit.

A 2016 list of solutions was released by DePauw Student Government members Vice President of Community Relations, Sarah Fears, and Vice President of Student Life, Diamond McDonald, on Monday afternoon.

The public document, which has been shared on Facebook, calls for adding a policy to “define racial misconduct and racial harassment ” and setting aside more resources to address incidents of harassment in the classroom. The document also called for transparency between the Administration and the DePauw community, incorporating lessons on diversity and inclusion into first-year orientation, and other forms of diversity training for students and faculty.  

“I believe that those proposed solutions are realistic solutions that can be accomplished in a short time frame but can change the course of depauw’s campus climate,” said Student Government President, senior Claire Halffield who attended Saturday’s meeting, “I personally support it, but have not spoken about it with student government yet.”

After Saturday’s meeting, there was a collective sense of accomplishment among those who had attended. “A sense of solidarity, we have plans, we have interest, and I think we all have the heart for it,” said senior Paris Murry, “Knowing we have allies and knowing we have a common goal.”

In the end, some students think for real change to happen, the University needs to be fully on board. “It’s up to DePauw,” said Genao.