Campus wrestles with racism following series of hate crimes

On Oct. 4, a hate crime was reported to Public Safety. The N-word had been written across a white board outside of a custodial closet in Mohn Hall the previous weekend.

A few days after the crime was reported, students from the Muslim House found a card with the same word written on it in their “Ask a Muslim Anything” question box, an initiative that prompted students to submit anonymous questions about Islam, Muslim identity, culture, tradition and faith.

Besides timing, there are no clear connections between the two incidents.

“[We found the card] directly after we had received an email from [President Anderson] about the incident in the residence hall, so we were trying to determine if this was something that had been done after the email from [President Anderson] or something like that,” Muslim House resident Caleb Goss ’18 said.

“I’ve never experienced such a thing, and I was rather confused and scared in a sense,” Mazen Abu-Sharkh ’18, another member of the Muslim House, said. “I was like, ‘if someone is willing to write such a thing, what stops them from coming to my house and breaking things and going further?’”

As an immediate response to the two incidents, President David Anderson ’74 emailed the student body.

“There is no place at St. Olaf for hate and discrimination of the kind evinced in this cowardly, because it was anonymous, act,” Anderson wrote. “Rather, we thrive on rational, civil, informed discussion of issues that divide us towards the goal of greater understanding, insight, and empathy.”

The college is removing all anonymous forums from campus, including the BORSC Talk Box and club advertisements that ask students to write comments on posters or suggestion cards.

“Right now, anonymity is basically a way for people to hide,” Dean of Students Roslyn Eaton said.

The Dean’s office describes incidents of bias, harassment and hate crimes as “some form of unwelcome conduct that is based on a person’s race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, or any other protected class status.” Students will be disciplined if they are found violating this policy in any of a number of forms, including “direct oral expression or physical gesture or action; notes, letters, U.S. mail, campus mail, or other forms of written communication; phone calls or phone messages; [or] E-mail or other electronic methods of communication.”

The college is currently investigating the crimes and at press time no one has come forward to take responsibility for them. Because nobody from the administration saw either perpetrator, the college is relying on the community for leads.

“Without the community, it’s really hard to identify people,” Eaton said.

These incidents fall into a history of hate crimes and vandalism at St. Olaf. Last spring, a Student Government Association campaign poster was vandalized, the College Republicans display was torn down repeatedly and Martin Luther King Jr. Day posters were damaged, among other incidents.

These particular crimes leave campus buzzing – the St. Olaf community has been discussing the incidents in classes, on social media and on stolaf-extra.

Tia Schaffer ’20 has been tabling in Buntrock Commons in response to the crimes, and in an attempt to spread positivity throughout campus and to support St. Olaf’s black community.

“Some people are ignorant, some people are hateful, some people are racist,” Schaffer said. “And since the term was derogatory towards the identity of black people, we know that there are people on campus, or someone on campus that has a genuine hate for black people. So, the purpose of the table was to make and display these signs that show and represent this pride for black culture and for black people on St. Olaf’s campus.

Schaffer hopes to help St. Olaf fully accept and embrace black culture, especially in the wake of the two hate crimes.

“I literally said ‘you know what, I’m going to get a speaker and I’m going to bring my laptop and Imma play the blackest music that I can find,’” she said. “Because again, I have this loud speaker and I got this black … music. I’m shovin’ my blackness and my culture down the throats of people who do not want to acknowledge and/or accept and embrace it.”

The college continues to stress the importance of civil discourse, but Eaton also stressed the need for the campus community to step up to prevent similar crimes in the future.

“What I want to know is, what are students doing?” Eaton said.

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