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Campus reacts to hate crime

Sam Stryker | Sunday, February 26, 2012

Two acts of racial harassment were committed against black student groups between Feb. 14 and 20 in the LaFortune Student Center.

According to a statement emailed to the student body Friday, fried chicken parts were placed in the mailboxes of the Black Students Association (BSA) and African Student Association (ASA). The Office of Student Affairs is now working with the two student organizations to present the incidents to the Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) for investigation.

Vice president for Student Affairs Fr. Thomas Doyle, vice president and associate provost Don Pope-Davis and chair of the Black Students Association Brittany Suggs signed the joint statement.

“These acts of harassment are a clear violation of University policy, unacceptable in every way, and will not be tolerated on our campus,” the statement said.

Iris Outlaw, director of Multicultural Students Programs and Services (MSPS), said these incidents reflect the need to report discrimination at Notre Dame.

“Discriminatory harassment is a serious matter and depending on the severity can lead to dismissal,” she said.

Suggs said most of campus, not just minority groups, responded strongly to the two incidents.

“Whether or not the acts were intended by the offender as harmless pranks, or as … harassment or hate crimes, … the greater Notre Dame community perspective by known parties that has developed around the issue is one of sheer disgust and sadness, along with shock and confusion,” she said.

In addition to occurring during Black History Month, Suggs said she was troubled the incidents perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

“In the black community, we aim to embrace our similarities while, most importantly, celebrating our differences. Hence, the frustration is obvious,” she said.  “Just because the mailboxes had the words ‘black’ and ‘African’ in the labels, the [perpetrators] assumed that these groups were one in the same, which is far from the case.”

ASA vice president Chris Moore said finding a fried chicken strip in the club’s mailbox initially did not prompt him to view the incident as a hate crime.

“Given that Africans aren’t typically stereotyped as being as fond of fried chicken like society tends to depicts black Americans, and that this appeared to be an isolated incident, none of us really thought of it was racial intimidation but rather a a sign of disrespect [and] impoliteness,” he said. “As we now know, this was regrettably not the case.”

In addition to the investigation, student leaders, staff and faculty are developing a “comprehensive response” to the specific incidents that occurred, as well as unreported occasions of intolerance, the statement said. This response will take “various forms.”

“We seek to use it as a means to educate our community and create awareness of the fact that, even at this point in our national history, hatred and bigotry continue to exist and must be combated,” the statement said.

Suggs said the BSA has developed a three-step plan of action with the ASA and MSPS. The first step is to address the situation in the black community; second, to address the incident with campus administration and third, to increase awareness and evoke action among the Notre Dame community.

“A critical component to this proposal includes urging the administrative officials in the Provost Office through formal letters and petitions to establish a cultural competency requirement that spans a semester beyond the current two-day presentation, which only serves to begin a conversation in regards to diversity,” she said.  “This component should be a top priority to the University.”

In the immediate future, Suggs said there are plans to host a campus-wide town hall meeting titled “A Call to Action in Regards to the Discriminatory Incident.” The meeting is scheduled for March 5 in the Andrews Auditorium of Geddes Hall.

“The purpose for the town hall meeting will not only serve as a campus-wide opportunity to discuss the incident and other related cases, but also to serve as productive means of understanding the various perspectives of the student body concerning such incidents and formulating a concrete plan of action,” she said.

Though immediate action has been taken to address the situation, Suggs said she does not view the incident as a “quick-fix.” Rather, she said this is an opportunity to bring necessary change to the University community.

“The plans of action proposed will require a great deal of revision, time and patience in the interest of bringing about effective implementation that will make for a sustainable modification in the campus climate and culture of Our Lady’s University,” she said.  “With campus-wide interest, action and support, we can work, jointly, to bring about these changes that are long overdue and have been swept under the rug too many times before.”

Moore said he hopes the campus engages in dialogue on the subject of race at Notre Dame, rather than responding with anger.

“I believe that many students, faculty and administrators would like to see Notre Dame as a campus that embraces all of its students,” he said. “The reality, however, is that overall experience and quality of campus life for many students is unfortunately shaped by their minority status on campus be it racial, ethnic or religious.

“Without actual dialogue regarding the subject, we cannot make progress as a community to ensure that inclusiveness is materialized for all.”

Anyone with information on these incidents is asked to contact NDSP at 574-631-5555.