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Three halls receive racist letters

Marcela Berrios | Monday, January 28, 2008

After every resident of at least three Notre Dame dorms last week received racist letters, University officials have reached out to the student body to condemn the message and warn that more letters may arrive.

In an e-mail to the student body sent Friday, University President Father John Jenkins and Vice President for Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman dismissed the writer’s claims as “blatant prejudice” and reiterated Notre Dame’s stance on racism.

The writer of the one-page letters – who identified himself in the document as a man from North Dakota – sent an envelope to each room in at least two residence halls, addressing them simply to “Occupant,” Jenkins and Poorman said.

The Observer has since learned that at least one more dorm received the letter. Though Zahm, Lewis and Knott Halls were the only confirmed recipients of the letter Sunday night, Jenkins, Poorman and the rectors of the targeted dorms said there is a possibility more of these letters may arrive in the next days.

The letter, Jenkins and Poorman said in their e-mail, “makes the false and abhorrent argument that blacks are intellectually inferior to whites.”

In the letter, the writer claims that “on average, blacks are less intelligent than whites and the reason why is genetic.”

He cites various books and magazine articles to support his argument that putting more resources into predominantly African-American schools will not result in “significant improvement” in these communities’ levels of education. He further condemns the United States’ decision to give aid to African countries.

In April 2007, the same man sent 354 letters to residents in seven different dorms in Ohio State University, reported the school’s student newspaper, The Lantern. The paper chose not to disclose the writer’s name, which -as in Notre Dame’s case – was included at the end of the letter.

The Observer was not able to contact the man Sunday and is therefore not releasing his name either. It was not immediately clear why the man targeted Notre Dame, or how the dorms that received the letters were chosen.

In their e-mail, Jenkins and Poorman immediately made it clear that such racism and bigotry would not be tolerated at Notre Dame, an opinion shared by the rectors of the dorms that were targeted.

When Corry Colonna, rector of Zahm, was notified by his dorm’s mail clerk about the letters, he sent the entire hall a follow-up to Jenkins and Poorman’s e-mail.

“It is with great disgust that I inform you that our hall is one of the halls that received the racist mailing for which you received an e-mail from the President about,” Colonna said in his e-mail to the residents of Zahm early Saturday morning.

He told them he informed Poorman about the letters before delivering them to the residents’ mailboxes.

“I wish we could just throw all of this hateful mail away but since it was sent through the U.S. Postal Service, it must be delivered under federal law,” Colonna said in the e-mail.  “Everyone has a right to say what they want in this country. I respect that right, though I find nothing in the letter the least bit worthy of our time or respect. My suggestion to you all is to toss it in the trash as soon as you see the envelope in your mailbox.”

Like Jenkins and Poorman, Colonna also told the residents of Zahm that he did not know why Notre Dame – or Zahm in particular – had been targeted.

“There is no reason that I can figure out why our hall or our University was plagued with this mailing. I reiterate to you that this letter does not reflect the values of our institution and certainly not those of Zahm Hall,” Colonna said. “Please do not respond to the letter in any way. The individual who sent it clearly wants attention. Let’s foil his hopes by ignoring him completely.”

Lewis rector Linda Cirillo said she agreed with the sentiments expressed in Colonna’s e-mail. They both said students in their halls have expressed disappointment at the level of racism palpable in the letters, but everyone has remained calm.

“To be completely honest, Father Jenkins and Father Poorman’s e-mail really prepared our students well for the letters,” Colonna said Sunday. “The prompt response by the administration to address the issue helped everyone to stay calm and take the letters for what they are – offensive junk mail.”

Jenkins and Poorman said in their e-mail they were working with a U.S. postal inspector and officials at Ohio State to evaluate a course of action for the University. Poorman declined to comment on this statement Sunday.

The letters were sent from Pembina, a town of 642 in North Dakota, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.