St. Michael’s responds to racism on campus

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St. Michael's College students demonstrate solidarity after racist incidents occurred on campus. (Photo by Tom Marble)

St. Michael’s College students demonstrate solidarity after racist incidents occurred on campus. (Photo by Tom Marble)

An investigation is ongoing at St. Michael’s College two weeks after members of the college’s Center for Multicultural Affairs and Services issued a letter condemning acts of “targeted hate.”

The investigation stems from allegations that a pattern of racially motivated incidents occurred on campus including racial slurs directed at students, defacing migrant workers posters with swastikas and president-elect Donald Trump’s catchphrase “Make America Great Again” scrawled on a white board outside the CMAS office.

“We are doing well with the investigation,” said Dawn Ellinwood, the college’s vice president of student affairs. “It’s close to conclusion.”

Monday afternoon, two students, including Melanie Castillo, co-president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Society, met privately with college president John Neuhauser to discuss a list of demands drawn up by CMAS members.

Among them are calls for developing a “permanent response team,” for installing cameras on every floor of every residence hall and for instituting bias awareness training for faculty and staff.

“Overall I think the meeting was productive,” Castillo said. “We heard from the administration that some [demands] were more challenging than others.”

Castillo said she was told the college administration can’t mandate faculty training but added she and her peers would continue encouraging staff to take an “unbiased” approach in dealing with students.

Although she felt the meeting was step in the right direction, Castillo wants to see the administration go beyond conversation.

“That was a lot of talking, and we need to see a lot more action in terms of the administration,” Castillo said.

A tentative meeting between CMAS and Neuhauser was set for next semester.

Monday afternoon’s meeting marks the second time Neuhauser has directly addressed the reported incidents, although some students feel the responses came too late. The first incident was reported just after Thanksgiving break, but it wasn’t until the day after CMAS published its letter on December 4 that they heard from Neuhauser.

Students Melanie Castillo (left) and Sadie Taylor (right) hold a banner emblazoned with the demands submitted to the college administration at Friday afternoon’s march. (Photo by Tom Marble)

Students Melanie Castillo (left) and Sadie Taylor (right) hold a banner emblazoned with the demands submitted to the college administration at Friday afternoon’s march. (Photo by Tom Marble)

In a post on St. Michael’s Facebook page, Neuhauser condemned racism, discrimination and hate speech.

“We assure every member of our community who feels targeted that no acts of hatred and bigotry will be tolerated and that any willful acts of hatred and bigotry will be addressed swiftly according to our student code of conduct,” he wrote.

To further publicize their demands and bring awareness to their position, CMAS students organized an afternoon march on the St. Michael’s campus last Friday, Dec. 9.

Around 200 hundred students marched through campus, holding signs with slogans like “White Silence = Violence” and chanting sayings like “React! Respond! Report!”

At the end of the march, students rallied in a large circle to listen to Manuela Ama Yeboah, a junior at St. Michael’s, read the list of CMAS demands aloud.

Kimoi Seale, assistant director for the center of multicultural affairs and services, said students were disappointed in the administration’s “perceived lack of response when it came to this particular issue with the swastikas.”

Ellinwood agreed, calling the administration’s response “long overdue,” but she added that more importantly, all students should know “there is a place for them here, but there is no place for hateful rhetoric.

“What is important is that all of our students feel as though they are part of this community, that they are loved by this community and we want to walk alongside them,” Ellinwood continued.

Students gather on the St. Michael's College campus to demand the administration's response to racist incidents. Nearly 200 students participated in a march last Friday to bring awareness to their cause. (Photo by Tom Marble)

Students gather on the St. Michael’s College campus to demand the administration’s response to racist incidents. Nearly 200 students participated in a march last Friday to bring awareness to their cause. (Photo by Tom Marble)

Outside of the campus community, efforts to support students who feel attacked have not been as inviting. Since being issued on December 4, the CMAS letter has garnered national media attention from conservative sites like Glenn Beck’s The Blaze and Alex Jones’ Prison Planet, thrusting students into the spotlight.

“[I] woke up the next day, and my face was plastered on The Blaze’s website with a direct link to my Facebook account,” Castillo said.

According to Castillo, she’s received threatening messages and comments on social media since the letter was published.

“I’ve received tremendous amounts of hate mail and messages from people I don’t even know around the country,” she said.

Although college officials have said students can come to them with concerns, there is little they can do to prevent malicious online activity. Seale said those complaints are directed to the college’s public safety department, which follows up with targeted students.