According to officials, at least seven racist graffiti have been found in two St. Cloud State University (SCSU) residence halls since school began last month.
In one incident, the initials KKK were discovered written on the wall of a residence hall elevator. According to SCSU President Earl Potter, it was supposedly written as a joke to three female residents whose first names start with “K.”
“It wasn’t funny,” noted Potter, who added that this and other recent incidents involving swastikas written on walls are not considered hate crimes: ”There is nothing that reaches the standard of a [hate] crime… They clearly have the marks of a ‘We’re going to show you’ behavior,” said the president.
The incidents are creating a hateful atmosphere on campus, said second-year student Ernest Shelley. On September 23, Shelley helped organize a “Speak Out” at Atwood Memorial Center in which he, Potter, and other students and faculty spoke out against such hate.
“These acts are not just against minority students, but it is a threat against St. Cloud State University as a whole,” said Shelley.
People who may know who is responsible for these acts should come forward, Potter told the student crowd. “If there is somebody who does something, there are other people on campus who know about that,” the president noted.
He understands that coming forward in such a way “is a complicated thing” that often goes against the present youth culture. “Often there are dynamics within the whole community…and reasons that the sharing of the information might not be wise.
“Sometimes they are afraid of personal retribution [either from administrators or fellow students],” Potter continued. “Sometimes people are concerned about their personal safety. Sometimes they don’t come forward because they don’t trust us in the administration.”
Shelley, cultural diversity chair of St. Cloud State’s student government association, said he doesn’t think school administrators are doing enough in this matter. Potter disagreed: After the swastikas incidents, “We brought the police to interview every resident, and that behavior seems to have quieted,” he pointed out. “[We] are dealing very proactively with each incident as it occurs.”
As a result of these and several other such incidents during the previous year, an uneasy campus atmosphere currently pervades St. Cloud State. “It’s really, really bad,” noted junior Queania Bream of Milwaukee.
“[School officials] tell us that [these incidents] are going on, but what are they doing about it?” asked second-year student Chinonye Cece of Arkansas.
Whoever is committing these acts should be expelled from school, said Shelley, who suggests that more video cameras be installed in campus buildings.
“I agree with all those who decry hateful acts and decry racism,” Potter declared. “I completely agree that any time a hateful symbol is placed on our university campus in any way, it damages our community. It hurts some more than others.”
According to Bream, her sister, who is a sophomore this year, “and some of her friends are [seriously thinking about] transferring” to another college because St. Cloud State isn’t “a welcoming campus.”
Several young Black women who live on campus “feel uncomfortable and unwelcome,” said sophomore Danielle Bennett of Queens, New York. “When they go into the restrooms and are doing their hair, they get funny looks, or the bathroom clears out all of a sudden,” she said. She, too, has heard some talk of leaving, but Bennett said she advises against this.
“Maybe they should stay and make a change,” Bennett surmised. “[They should join] with us people who are trying to have an imprint on this institution for future generations that will be coming here.”
However, Bootsie Anderson of Minneapolis, who also spoke to the student crowd, wondered out loud why St. Cloud State isn’t more welcoming to Blacks and other students of color. “This has been going on since way prior to 1991 when my daughter was here,” said Anderson, who added that her daughter left SCSU after a year and a half because of racism. “Why is this still going on? Is the president that ineffective or has that little power?”
Dr. Tamrat Tademe, a 20-year SCSU professor, complained that the school doesn’t do enough to help Blacks and students of color once they arrive on campus. “We have not developed a strategy on this campus to embrace people,” he explained.
“The president of this institution is at a moral crossroad. He has to decide [if he is] going to succumb to the pressure of image management. I believe [Potter] is a good person and his heart is in the right place.”
“We [need] to come up with some kind of model or direction toward change,” said Jarrod Hall, who is in his second year of teaching at SCSU.
SCSU is for fairness for all, even for those who disagree, Potter said. “We will have conflict, but our strength is how we deal with this conflict.” He added that using hateful symbols as an expression of freedom of speech is wrong.
“I can’t create a free speech code to deny people from doing that, but I can create a community dialogue that abhors that behavior. That is what I intend to do,” Potter said.
Breme would like to see that happen before she graduates next fall: “I’d like to see change on campus at least for the remaining time I am going to be here,” she said, “but I know it is not going to happen overnight.”
“It is not about making St. Cloud State look good,” concluded Tademe. “It’s about standing for what is right in 2008.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com