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Graffiti of racial slur sparks outcry, then solidarity on Ursinus College campus

Student recalls shock, ensuing stand against hate

It was Friday, Jan. 28, at 10:30 a.m. It was just another morning for sleep-deprived students eating tater tots in Wismer and trying to stay awake through early-morning language class requirements. It was just another e-mail. And then we read Dean of Students Deborah Nolan’s student address. And it was no longer another ordinary morning.

The sleep we wore on our faces quickly gave way to astonishment as we read the following: “Sometime between Monday morning and Wednesday morning, someone carved the word 'n-----' into the wall behind the podium in a classroom in which an African-American faculty member regularly teaches.” (The e-mail contained the actual racial epithet.)

I have never seen Ursinus College’s campus so alive so early, class discussions so productively off-task, or a sense of community so centered. The incredible aspect of the situation was not its breadth, though this was most certainly noteworthy, but the immediacy of this extensiveness was nearly unfathomable.

All were asking questions. Why here? Isn’t Ursinus supposed to be the safe place we all can escape from this world of prejudice and immaturity? Why would Dean Nolan use that word in the e-mail? What were her purposes in doing so? Why were we not notified sooner? Who was the professor who had the awful experience of finding the graffiti? What was his or her reaction? What classroom was it?

All of these questions were asked, and none of them answered. We’re bright students. It’s not as though we were incapable of formulating answers to appease these many inquiries. We left them unanswered because they were unimportant. They were mere curiosities standing next to the real question coming forth from the campus as a body: What are we going to do about it?

Bobby Fong, who will become Ursinus College’s president in July of this year, encouraged this question in his address to students shortly after the crime was committed. “A community is not judged when something happens. It is judged by the community’s response when something happens.”

Administration took the lead in organizing a town hall meeting on campus for the following Monday, Jan. 31, with the comment from Dean Nolan, “This hate crime hurts all of us, weakens our community and ultimately is unacceptable.”

Nolan also noted the purpose of the town hall meeting was “to recognize our collective outrage at these behaviors, to encourage and support those who have been harassed, and to unite as a community that strives for mutual respect for every individual.”

The scheduling of the large-group meeting in the campus’ Olin Auditorium gave forth to another, more intimate group discussion about the issue Thursday, Feb. 3 at Ursinus’ Unity House, organized by Ursinus’ Diversity Committee.

The Diversity Committee, along with administration, played a key role in the organization and facilitation of Ursinus’ public response to the unthinkable crime.

However, even with these coordinators, the students of Ursinus College needed no aid or motivation to express their outrage at the crime or to construct proposals for the college’s handling of the situation.

As our soon-to-be-president Bobby Fong commented, “The outcry is supported by administration, but the heart and soul is that it’s driven by the students.”

More than 300 members of the Ursinus community convened at the town hall meeting Monday to show their support for the reform about which many students had spent the weekend talking.

It was a general consensus on campus that there was not one statement or one rally that could fully express students’ repulsion toward this horrendous act, and these ideas were shared openly and expansively in Olin Auditorium Monday night.

Diversity Committee student representative Rassah Ostadhosseini offered her thoughts on the matter in saying, “Although we have come a long way in recent years, we still have a long way to go. To change the Ursinus landscape will not be easy; however it is [a] responsibility we as individuals in the Ursinus community must take upon our shoulders to ensure that Ursinus becomes the accepting community it should be.”

It was in that auditorium, among those students in attendance, that it was agreed. Ursinus is ready for a revolution. And the revolution starts now.

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