On Dec. 14, during final weeks of the Fall 2017 semester, a student wrote a racial slur in the snow on campus. Debbie Nolan, the Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, sent out an email later that day to notify students and faculty about the incident. Although I was enraged when I found out, I wasn’t surprised. This incident is just one of many on this campus, though they may not all be officially reported. Many students of color have been verbally attacked by white peers. As a Mexican female, I’m frightened not only for my own safety but for the safety of every other minority student on campus. My experience at Ursinus for the past year and a half has taught me that racism and ignorance occur every day and often go unnoticed by the administration. However, the incident itself was not the worst part.
In the email Nolan sent out, she titled the subject as “bias incident.” According to Georgetown University, a bias incident is an act that is motivated by racism and other forms of prejudice. This includes, but isn’t limited to religion, ethnicity, gender and more. It is different from a hate crime because it doesn’t involve criminal activity. However, the fact that the incident did not physically harm someone does not erase the harm the assailant committed against minority students on campus through fear. The act was a form of hate speech that was motivated by racism. The administration should reconsider the rhetoric used to identify the incident as hate speech rather than a bias.
When incidents of racism occur on campus, justice is never served. Yes, the assailant came forward and received “disciplinary sanctions.” But because these sanctions are confidential, we have no way of knowing what the typical punishment would be. Nevertheless, the disciplinary sanctions do not fully resolve the situation, but only continue to cause speculation surrounding the identity of the student and the administration’s disciplinary process.
The end of Nolan’s email stated, “It is an essential value of Ursinus that all should feel welcome, included and safe on our campus.” Personally, it makes it difficult to believe the administration’s statements about inclusivity and safe spaces for all students when I often feel like the way they handle these situations indicates that they don’t care about students of minority races, genders, and sexual orientations.
The use of racial slurs and other incidents like this don’t just occur on campus but everywhere in society. These issues have always existed and if you refuse to believe it, you’re a part of the problem. When these incidents occur, I feel like I’m constantly reiterating the same arguments that say derogatory terms are never acceptable to say, that racism continues to be prevalent within society, that class systems exist, and that there’s no such thing as “reverse racism.” However, individuals continue to stay ignorant, ignoring these arguments made by marginalized groups who suffer from these problems. As a Mexican woman, I have become frustrated that certain individuals don’t understand the concept of respecting basic human rights, but then I’m reminded that this country was founded on racism.
I hope the administration changes the ways in which they handle incidents involving racism. If the administration strives to truly be an inclusive campus that is safe for everyone, they should stand by that belief and fight for students who are targeted. I understand that this incident had to be dealt with confidentially; however, the administration should seek ways to better prioritize the victims and all marginalized groups. This includes providing protection by having campus safety escort students on campus if they’re scared. The school could also hold town hall discussions where students could provide their own points of view about how these issues should be handled between students and administration. The most important thing the administration can do is to listen to the student body, specifically minority students. Appropriate punishable consequences should be meted out to those who commit these crimes, and the administration should be transparent about this disciplinary process. The lives that have been targeted deserve to be protected and it starts with the school taking full responsibility for their poor actions.