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Salisbury University is reeling after four separate incidents of racist, sexually charged graffiti were found at the same academic hall during the past month.
University officials say they have taken concrete steps to keep the campus safe and reassure students. But some students have criticized the administration for inadequately communicating with them.
Charles Wight, president of the university, and Brendan Link, vice president of the school’s student government association, join us to discuss the hate speech and how Salisbury wants to move forward.
Produced by Lauren Markoe and Laura Spitalniak
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast the deafening officials silence about the investigation into the death of Bijan Ghaisar shot by two U.S. Park Police officers two years ago. His family members will be joining us in studio.
KOJO NNAMDIBut first several incidents of racist and threatening vandalism have rocked Salisbury University over the past month. The hate filled and sexually charged graffiti has specifically target African Americans at the predominantly white school. The most recent incident on the eastern shore campus, which is part of the University of Maryland's system was particularly disturbing. Someone scrawled a racist threat that eluded to the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Joining us now to discuss how the university is handling the situation and the response from students is Charles Wight. He is the President of Salisbury University. Dr. Wight, thank you for joining us.
CHARLES WIGHTThank you, Kojo. Nice to be with you.
NNAMDIWe were also supposed to be joined by Brendan Link, the Vice President of the Student Government Association at the university, but minutes ago he informed us that he will be unable to join us because he has been called into a meeting with university officials. Charles Wight, do you know anything about that?
WIGHTI'm sorry. I don't.
NNAMDIIt seems very strange that a student, who was about to appear on the broadcast and may have had critical comments about the university was suddenly called into a meeting with quote/unquote "university officials," a meeting about which the president knows absolutely nothing. Shouldn't you have been informed about that?
WIGHTI would have expected to know about that, yes.
NNAMDIWell, I guess later on we'll find out what happened. Can you tell us how many incidents of racist graffiti the university is investigating with the latest referring to the massacre at Sandy Hook? Has it grown increasingly threatening, Dr. Wight?
WIGHTIt has. It started with two events in early October and those events were vandalism of an ugly and sexual nature, but the two events that occurred in late October and then most recently on November 4th were the ones where the language had greatly escalated into these terrorist and racist threats.
NNAMDICan you tell us about the building where this happened? Is it a particularly important or symbolic place?
WIGHTIt is the Fulton Hall and it's the home of our Fulton School of Liberal Arts. It houses many programs and it's actually -- houses the largest program on our campus.
NNAMDIIs there anything we can say about the perpetrator of these acts? Was it one person?
WIGHTWe don't know for certain that it's one person. I think that's a reasonable conclusion, but it's not anything that's official that's come out of the investigation.
NNAMDIAnd what has the university been doing in response to this?
WIGHTWe have been doing a lot of things. Starting with the police chief canceled all leaves for our officers. So we have increased police presence all over campus, but in particular in Fulton Hall. And we have security officers, who are helping with that. We are communicating with students more effectively through social media and through a text messaging system. We have longer range plans to increase the diversity and sensitivity training of employees on campus, increased attention to security cameras on campus, a lot of things are going on.
NNAMDII know that some students have expressed frustration about this. How has the university responded to the students? What's been the nature of the conversation or dialogue that the university has been having with the students?
WIGHTWell, I am very grateful to the students, because they have been at the forefront of a healing process. And it started on Tuesday November 5th -- actually on Monday November 5th when a lot of students met with our administrators on Monday the 4th. And then on Tuesday the 5th we had an open town hall meeting in our academic commons where we had nearly 1,000 people in the assembly hall and in five overflow rooms across campus. And we entered into a dialogue, which the students facilitated. So the students were involved in the organization of this event. And they held the microphones and took questions and sought answers from me and from other administrators and from our police chief. And so they have been involved in helping us get through this.
WIGHTOn Wednesday the students also organized an event where they posted sticky notes all over Fulton Hall in the hallways and stairwells and in the places where these threats had been scrawled on the wall. And those were messages of hope and of love and of solidarity. And late Wednesday afternoon I went over to take a look at those notes and I knew that at that point our community was ready to come together to start the healing process.
NNAMDIOur guest is Charles Wight. He is the President of Salisbury University where there have been some racist and threatening incidents recently. There have been some students who have been critical of the administration saying that Salisbury does not take racism on campus seriously enough and does not want to address the issue publically. Has that in any way changed?
WIGHTWe do take racism very seriously. And in fact, last year we had a series of events which were designed to -- they were designed to explore institutional racism and come to some conclusions about how we were going to face that. Salisbury has been a predominantly white institution for nearly 100 years, but we've made great strides in improving the diversity and inclusion of our institution, and we've got a long way to go, but we're getting there.
NNAMDIHas the university grappled with any similar incidents in recent years?
WIGHTThere have been isolated incidents in the past. There was an incident in 2016, but that was really the most recent incident of a similar nature.
NNAMDIHave any students departed, left Salisbury University over these incidents?
WIGHTNot that we know of. There were some students who were saying that they were afraid and they were thinking about leaving. The way that students leave the university is with their feet. And so we wouldn't necessarily know about all of the students, who might have left.
NNAMDIWell, there has been a report from Delmarva Now quoting a parent, who says that her son withdrew from Salisbury two weeks before the most recent incident. Have you heard anything about that?
WIGHTYes. I'm aware of that.
NNAMDIOkay. And is that correct? Did he in fact leave as far as you know, because of these incidents?
WIGHTHe did leave. I'm not sure if it was because of this incident or because of another incident.
NNAMDIPresident Charles Wight, do you feel safe on campus?
WIGHTI do. We have a very safe campus and we publish our crime statistics the way that every university does. And I don't want to be over analytical about it, but there is a far greater chance that I will die in a car crash than at the hands of a terrorist. And so while I am very upset about what these incidents have done in terms of putting our campus into turmoil, when it comes to my own personal safety, I try not to allow the rants of a racist moron with a Sharpie pen get too much under my skin.
NNAMDICan you assure students of color that they are now safe on the campus of Salisbury University?
NNAMDICharles Wight is the President of Salisbury University. Thank you very much for joining us.
NNAMDIWe were supposed to be joined by Brendan Link, the Vice President of the Student Association at Salisbury, but he said just a few minutes ago that he's been called into a meeting with university officials. We're going to take a short break, when we come back, the deafening official silence about the investigation of the death of Bijan Ghaisar who was shot by two U.S. Park Police officers two years ago, when we come back we'll be joined by his family, their attorney and U.S. Senator Mark Warner. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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