Fordham Reacts to Slur on Minority Student Door

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Fordham Reacts to Slur on Minority Student Door

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By ADRIANA GALLINA
Editor-in-Chief

Three Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) roommates went to football practice on Sunday morning, Sept. 13. Two of the players (both white) returned to their room around noon without seeing anything on their door. At 1 p.m., the third roommate, a black student, returned to find the n-word carved into their door. He alerted a resident assistant, who in turn notified the Office of Public Safety.

This is the site of the racist slur, scratched into the dorm door of a freshman Rose Hill student. The photo was taken by the black student and uploaded on Snapchat. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HANS LUEDERS)

This is the site of the racist slur, scratched into the dorm door of a freshman Rose Hill student. The photo was taken by the black student and uploaded on Snapchat. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HANS LUEDERS)

By 8:16 p.m. that night, the University had informed the Fordham community of the racist slur that had occurred some time in the past 24 hours via email, calling the defacement by the legal procedural term “bias incident.” Subsequently, two student groups on campus, the Black Student Alliance (BSA) at Rose Hill and BSA at Lincoln Center, have responded with outrage about what students are largely referring to as a hate crime. Both organizations have stressed that they are resources and communities to help students process the event, heal and move forward.

I believe strongly that it was a hate crime,” Hans Lueders FCRH ‘16, president of the BSA at RH, also known as ASILI (the Swahili word for origins), said.

“Carving the word n-word into someone’s door–where he lives–that’s clear intent to deliver emotional harm to that guy,” Lueders continued.

He said, “I was just at a College Democrats meeting and students are concerned about the way the school framed it, a ‘bias’ incident. They are concerned that the school might not have their backs. That’s not a feeling you want freshmen to have, especially two weeks in the semester, they need to know how secure they are.”

Bob Howe, senior director of communications and special advisor to the President, stated, “The wording is the way that it is not because we want to go easy on whoever the suspected writer is. The point is you don’t want to get to a disciplinary hearing or a criminal proceeding and have that person [the perpetrator] say, ‘They were prejudiced against me from the beginning. Even before the investigation was complete, they called it a hate crime.’”

 

Hans Lueders, featured above, writes, “This is me, so you can put a face to a name. I too, am other,” in his piece called “At Fordham University, Racism 101 Is In Session” featured in Slant. The incident “was really sobering for all of us the worst part was my initial reaction was I’m tired man. I’m really weary, it sucks that such a thing is so commonplace that you can’t even muster enough shock to it,” he said. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HANS LUEDERS)

Hans Lueders, featured above, writes, “This is me, so you can put a face to a name. I too, am other,” in his piece called “At Fordham University, Racism 101 Is In Session” featured in Slant. The incident “was really sobering for all of us the worst part was my initial reaction was I’m tired man. I’m really weary, it sucks that such a thing is so commonplace that you can’t even muster enough shock to it,” he said. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HANS LUEDERS)

 

In a political climate where there’s more intolerance toward racial prejudice, some students find the protocolic language, “bias incident,” used by the University to be insensitive. At least 30 Facebook posts by fellow Rams, including alumni, echoed Lueders’ thoughts. One post read, “There’s no point in using neutral language to describe hateful behavior.” Another read, “I feel like a hate crime is something that needs to be addressed not only by Public Safety but the Administration itself. Like this is your student body making black students feel unsafe. This isn’t just about the safety of Fordham, but the conscience of the people who go here and the people who run the school.”

Georgina Owolabi, vice president of BSA at Lincoln Center (LC) and Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ‘16, said, “It wasn’t just a ‘bias incident’. It was a hate crime. But more importantly we are making sure Fordham knows that BSA is a resource and a space to address that.”

BSA at LC released a statement via Facebook that same Sunday evening (see below). “We haven’t even had our first meeting yet, and to stay silent about that wouldn’t have been appropriate and would have been a form of complacency,” Owolabi said.

“This happened but where do we go from here? And specifically addressing those who were victimized, whether it is towards that individual student or towards the rest of the Fordham community, black or other, if they are hurting from this situation and being able to process that,” she continued.

What makes something a hate crime?

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John Carroll, VP of Public Safety and former NYPD officer said, “First of all, that’s horrendous for this young man to come home to. It’s disgusting–really. Anybody who doesn’t have empathy for that really shouldn’t be in this business. But at the same time, you got to let the process move forward in a methodical, intelligent way or else you would just be casting everyone as guilty without investigation.” (PHOTO BY ADRIANA GALLINA/ THE OBSERVER)

We are an educational institution and we are here to educate our students,” John Carroll, assistant vice president of Public Safety, said. “It’s wrong to jump to conclusions before the investigation concludes. To start by saying this is a hate crime, while it may very well be a hate crime is wrong. The investigation will determine whether it is.” 

A hate crime necessitates the culpable mental state of the individual committing the crime, according to Carroll. “For any hate crime you have to have an underlying crime, in this case criminal mischief. Now certainly, the n-word is a racist word. Nobody is taking anything away from that,” he said.

“But what we are saying is exactly what every policing agency and every law enforcement agency would say–investigate a suspected bias incident. It is suspected to be a hate crime, but we can’t call it that until the investigation is complete.”

According to Carroll, the University acted promptly and justly by notifying the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Fordham community that the investigation began. The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force was assigned. He also stated that they used correct official language which is “Investigate a Suspected Bias Incident.”

According to the Fordham website:

Hate Crimes – A person commits a hate crime when he or she commits a specified offense (as defined in Section 485.05[3]) and either:

(a) Intentionally selects the person against whom the offense is committed or intended to be committed in whole or in substantial part because of a belief or perception regarding the race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation of a person, regardless of whether the belief or perception is correct, or

(b) Intentionally commits the act or acts constituting the offense in whole or in substantial part because of a belief or perception regarding the race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation of a person, regardless of whether the belief or perception is correct.

While according to the website a Bias Incident:

Not all hateful behavior rises to the level of a crime. Bias-Related Incidents refer to any act or behavior that is a violation of the Student Code of Conduct and reasonably believed to be motivated by a consideration (real or perceived) of race, color, creed, religion, age, sex, gender, national origin, marital or parental status, sexual orientation, citizenship status, veteran status, disability, or any other basis prohibited by law.

When asked if the Office of Multicultural Affairs had input into these safety alerts, Carroll responded, “No, but their bosses do.” According to both Howe and Carroll, in addition to themselves, Vice President of Affairs Jeffrey Gray, Dean of Students at Rose Hill, Chris Rodgers, and Dean of Students at Lincoln Center, Keith Eldredge, all review safety alerts prior to being pushed out to the school.

Howe could not predict the severity of the disciplinary action that would be taken by the University should the perpetrator be found guilty of a hate crime. “There’s a range of penalties and I don’t want to outline them because I don’t want to highlight a particular penalty, but there will be a disciplinary process if that person is caught,” he stated.

When asked if the Fordham community would be alerted to the results of disciplinary proceedings against the student, Howe responded: “It depends. If the person is a student, they have privacy rights under FERPA and in any case a University is not going to throw one of their own students under the bus. Even if it’s a student who did something disgusting. I don’t know how we’ll handle that. It depends on how the case plays out.”

Not the First Offensive Slur Sprawled on Campus

From February to March 2012, there were three “suspected bias incidents,” according to CBS. The first involved the n-word being graffitied on the dorm door of a black resident assistant. Next, a homophobic word was found in the stairwell of the Lincoln Center campus. The third involved another racial slur found in a bathroom at the Rose Hill campus.

In response to those incidents, students created a petition on Change.org called  “Acts of Racism and Hate will NOT be Tolerated” that garnered 1,674 supporters.

Zann Ballsun-Simms, president of BSA at LC and FCLC ‘16, said, “This is a larger issue. This is not an isolated incident. It’s not just one thing. It’s not just a joke. This is something that needs to be addressed systemically within the Fordham community.”

She reiterated the sentiments of Owolabi and Lueders that, “As BSA, our biggest goal is to give students of color–particularly black students–the support that they need right now to get through this and provide a safe space for them to get through that.”

Moving forward and Standing in Solidarity
Administration has thus far been responsive. “Dean Nolan and Dean Rodgers have been forthcoming and helpful,” Lueders said.

“We have a culture here–a Jesuit culture–that this is not something we support. It’s not okay,” Owolabi said. “I’m trying to picture myself in the place of this freshman or freshmen here, who come into Fordham and have had conversations with orientation leaders that have assured them this is a very understanding community and diverse community that celebrates diversity and for this to have happened not even two weeks into the school year, how do you address that?”

In one phrase: I got your back–we got your back,” Lueders said.

BSA at LC and the Community Organizing Working Group of the Dorothy Day Center for Service and Justice will be co-hosting a dialogue to unpack recent events on Thursday, Sept. 24. BSA at LC will also be having their first meeting on Sept. 23 at 3 p.m. room TBA.

Rose Hill hosted a dialogue on Tuesday, Sept. 15, in Keating Hall which approximately 50 students and faculty attended.

Anyone with any knowledge of the incident should contact the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force at (646) 610-8763, or the Office of Public Safety at (718) 817-2222 and speak with the Duty Supervisor. Students may also reach out to their resident assistants, commuter assistants, Office of Multicultural Affairs staff, resident ministers, and student life staff with any information or to discuss the incident and its effect on them or the community.




Email from Public Safety:
Subject: University Statement | Rose Hill Bias Incident
At 1 p.m. on Sunday, September 13, 2015, an African-American student notified a resident assistant, who in turn notified Fordham Public Safety, that a racial slur had been scratched into the door of his room in Lalande Hall. The room’s residents had not been present for most of the day, and it is unclear when the door was defaced.

Residential life staff and officers from Public Safety responded to the room, and notified NYPD, which is investigating the incident as a bias crime.

It goes without saying that such behavior is antithetical to the values of Jesuit education. Such slurs injure not only their intended targets, but the entire Fordham community. If the person who committed the act is identified, he or she will face University disciplinary proceedings in addition to whatever criminal charges are filed.

Anyone having any knowledge of the incident is urged to contact the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force at (646) 610-8763, or the Office of Public Safety at (718) 817-2222, and ask to speak to the Duty Supervisor.

Students are also encouraged to contact their resident assistants, commuter assistants, Office of Multicultural Affairs staff, resident ministers, and student life staff if they have anything to report, or if they simply want to discuss the incident and its effect on them and the community.



BSA LC Statement:

BSA Members and Allies,

     With the latest Fordham security alert message, it has come to our attention that a bias crime has occurred on the Rose Hill campus. To begin, words cannot express the disgust felt among the E-Board that someone who dares to call themselves  a Fordham Ram would have the audacity to commit such an act of hatred, and let’s call it for what it was – a hate crime against one’s racial identity. To the student who was victimized in this act, we stand with you in solidarity and want you to know that we are readily available as a resource of support for you during this time and henceforth. For anyone at either Fordham campus who ever feels victimized because of their race, we offer ourselves to you as a place of support, comfort, and healing.To the students of Fordham, we urge you to understand the severity of what has truly happened and to understand that to remain silent on this matter is to insinuate this behavior is acceptable (despite going against the Jesuit tenants we so stand for here). We know this does not represent the spirit of Fordham and that hopefully that same spirit can help us grow from this incident.

With Love and Power,

The BSA E-Board