Letter to the Editor: Dean of Students Encourages Welcoming Climate
June 8, 2011
June 15, 2011
Dear Staff and Faculty;
Earlier this year race based incidents occurred which prompted a letter to be published in the April 12, 2011 edition of The New Hampshire. Since then, more incidents have come to light. This letter will provide basic information about what happened and what is being done in direct response and to address larger concerns that these incidents have raised.
In January, at an off campus location in Durham, a racist slur was used during an altercation that began as a relationship disagreement between two students. In April outside a party in Durham, some of the same participants in the January incident were approached by a white student who was also involved in the January incident and the white student struck an African American student. Finally, in late May, two students (one white and one black) engaged in a fight on campus. Police were called and the white student was arrested. The two students were indirectly connected to a dispute a few days earlier involving a larger number of students.
These incidents in January, April and May became known to several of us at the end of the semester via conversation with students. Because the identities of the white students are now known I am currently following up to determine appropriate consequences for their behavior. Police continue their investigation into the May incident.
In early June, staff from Athletics, Chairs of the President’s Commission on the Status of People of Color, OMSA and Provost’s Office pulled together with me for the purpose of comparing notes on what we each knew about what had happened. We saw certain themes emerging. Those include the following. While interactions don’t start out as being racially charged, they quickly take an ominous turn when a white student uses a hateful word against a student of color. Next, students may think that once an incident has occurred, they can just brush it off and it won’t happen again; but the next time they see each other, someone brings up a previous incident which proves that issues are still unresolved. Finally, white privilege is a central element here, as well as perception of inequitable treatment and belief that nothing will be done even if an incident is reported.
While individual students are being held accountable, there is a larger concern over campus environment that arises when events like these continue to happen. There are several very good ideas being pursued, some of which will take time to develop and implement. Those ideas center on the need to educate and inform students about the impact of hateful words and intentional slurs. There is also the need to provide students with skills they can use to safely intervene early on, before a disagreement becomes an argument or something worse. Finally, there is a need to offer insight into how students can become visible and effective allies to persons in protected categories, and last semester highlights the need to focus on race as an important component for ally building.
In the coming weeks and months, many of us will continue to work on programming, workshops, and other educational initiatives that will provide insights and skill sets for students to use in a variety of settings. This can only be accomplished through an active collaboration among our many offices. Please join us in actively promoting a safe and welcoming climate here at UNH.
Dean of Students