After this year's third racially charged incident on campus and what some consider a slow response from the administration, students are evaluating their emotions and taking action.
Various university community members convened Friday afternoon in the Brown Alley Room to discuss the incident -- the first of many meetings to today, when a group of students will personally address President Edward Ayers. The Friday meeting included students; faculty members from the Department of Theater and Dance, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Common Ground; and other university professors and staff.
In an e-mail, Ayers addressed the campus community about the black doll found suspending from a noose in Cousins Studio Theater on March 25, a response that came more than three weeks after theater faculty encountered it, and just days before students left for spring break. For many people, the e-mail was the first time they had heard of the incident.
The perceived delay has inspired students from a range of organizations, including the Black Student Alliance and Multicultural Student Union, to voice their discontent.
Additional meetings took place at the Think Tank and during BSA's weekly meeting on Sunday and MSU's weekly meeting on Monday. At each session, students called for the police to investigate the incident, demanded development of a protocol and task force to address future racial hate speech, and the incorporation of diversity discussions into the educational curriculum at Richmond.
Marissa White, an Oliver Hill Scholar, Westhampton College Government Association member and BSA member, plans to meet, along with an unclear number of students, with Ayers to present ideas for immediate action and long-term solutions at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. Student-athletes who were not able to attend other meetings because of practice conflicts are meeting at 7:15 p.m. Thursday in Robins Center Room 245 with Cade and Hughes to also discuss the incident.
"This has been portrayed as an issue within the theater department, but it is campus-wide," White said.
The group is asking Ayers to issue an e-mail statement to the university community that specifically addresses the doll, as he did last fall when someone was seen allegedly wearing a Blackface Halloween costume. The group is asking Ayers to acknowledge the recurrence of racially demeaning speech on campus and for the creation of a task force that would formulate a protocol for future incidents.
"That's the whole point of the protocol," senior Chenelle Rollins said. "It's that we know what to do if this happens. The average student or teacher on campus wouldn't know what to do in this event. The Theater Department likely never dealt with this before and didn't know what to do."
Students are also demanding the university adopt a zero-tolerance policy for hate-speech and requiring the police department to become involved in the future.
The incident is currently under investigation by the university police department, according to Bob Dillard, University of Richmond chief of police. The department is not treating the incident as a hate crime.
"If we determine the doll was hung in an attempt to intimidate, criminal charges may be appropriate," said Dillard, adding that if the act did not seek to intimidate or threaten anyone, then appropriate administrative action would be taken.
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Tina Cade, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and Glyn Hughes, director of Common Ground, agreed that a committee of faculty and staff from all departments should be assembled to address future incidents.
The president's office has made a commitment to see this through, Hughes said. Steve Bisese, vice president for student development, is assisting Hughes in the process's early stages.
"I would like to think that this is the last incident of this kind on campus," Cade said. "But I don't think that is the case."
Cade and Hughes said they would be looking at how other universities handled similar events on their campuses when developing Richmond's plan.
"Things that we see here are not uncommon at other institutions throughout the nation," Cade said. "If you can find a utopia, then please, let's go and visit that place."
Students are also pushing for increased discussion of diversity. Suggestions include requiring a course on diversity that students must take to graduate or integrating diversity books into the freshman Core curriculum.
Cade, Hughes and the majority of students who attended the meetings agreed that professors, who are educated and equipped to talk about diversity, should be assigned to teach other faculty how to address these issues. They also say professors knowledgeable about diversity should be hired.
"There needs to be more occasions where people can talk to each other and learn about what makes them tick," Cade said. "When you connect and talk about things -- your values, your customs, things that distinguish your culture -- you can understand and react to these events in the right way."
Leah Adams, president of MSU, said students were angry and didn't feel safe because of the hanging doll. Adams and nine other students who met to compile the list of suggestions to present Ayers say the administration has not acknowledged the seriousness of the act.
"In general, it's going to be harder for a member of the majority group to truly understand how an incident like this affects members of a marginalized group," Hughes said. "We need to take care of the community that has been most wounded by this and get down to business."
Contact staff writer Megan Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org
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