Students gather to condemn recent racial incidents

Members of the University community gathered on the stairs of the Rotunda Saturday afternoon in response to five reported racially-charged incidents that occurred in a three-day period last week.

The administration moved to harshly condemn the incidents.

"The writer of the spiteful words and the passing motorist who shouts an insult have no place in a community built on mutual trust and respect," said University President John T. Casteen, III in an e-mail to the student body.

The rally was sparked by the latest incident in which a Lawn resident, Phillip Jackson, returned to his room and found a racial epithet and "I hate Jesus" written on the whiteboard on his door.

In addition to the incident involving Jackson, two female students reported a racial statement was left on their door in Eagles Landing Thursday night, and on three occasions first-year black students reported having racial slurs yelled at them, near Observatory Hill, on McCormick Road and on the Corner.

News of the rally spread through e-mail lists and word of mouth. Students, faculty and staff assembled on the steps of the Rotunda to hear from University administrators and student leaders. The rally was initiated by former Student Council President Noah Sullivan. Fourth-year College student Jessica Fowler, a friend and neighbor of Jackson's and chair of Sustained Dialogue, sent out an e-mail asking members of the community to join together on the Lawn in protest.

"Something's got to be done, so this [discussion] is mandatory," NAACP Chapter President Jean Hall said. "I've always admired this place, and I get here and this is what I have to deal with."

The protest was designed to make the perpetrators feel unwelcome in the University community, said Sullivan.

Participants suggested a number of proposed actions in response to the most recent incidents.

One discussed proposal, which was initiated last semester, was amending the Honor Code to address racially-charged incidents.

"It should be part of our honor system that anyone who makes a racial incident is expelled for violating the community of trust," said Jade Craig, co-chair of the Black Leadership Institute.

Many of the speakers discussed the importance of publicizing these racial incidents to increase awareness.

"We need to make sure that word of these incidents is getting around," fourth-year College student Wyatt Robinson said. "I've been here for four years, and each and every year there's been an incident."

One proposal for increased publicity included getting faculty to discuss racial incidents in the classroom. Dean of African-American Affairs M. Rick Turner said in an interview that the impetus must come from the faculty.

"They are the ones who really run the institution," Turner said. "Faculty have all of the students in the classroom. Students have to have a discussion about this in the classroom. This is what the community does when the community is scarred."

Administrators stressed the importance of reporting these incidents. Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Lampkin encouraged students to report all incidents. Lampkin also stressed the importance of leaving physical evidence intact to be used in police reports.

An online reporting system is currently being developed and is expected to be available in two to three weeks, according to Lampkin.

The protest also included discussion about other groups that experience intolerance at the University, based on sexual orientation, gender and religion.

"It's not just black and white," Student Council Chief of Staff Elizabeth Chu said.

Adrian Patton, chair of the Minority Rights Coalition, called for "zero tolerance for all ignorance." Patton stressed intolerance in all forms, including the "not gay" chant during The Good Ol' Song.

Turner expressed concern that the protest discussion had lost focus.

"We've talked about a lot of issues today, but this is about hatred of African-American students," Turner said. "Don't forget that."

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