A Metro article yesterday and one in Wednesday's Prince George's Extra incorrectly reported that Juliana Njoku was the first black president of the Student Government Association at the University of Maryland at College Park. University spokeswoman Tia Mason said Njoku is "the first African" to hold that post. (Published 11/19/99)
When Juliana Njoku was accepted as a freshman at the University of Maryland, she feared she was coming to a campus rife with racial tension.
One day, it seemed her fears had been confirmed. She walked out of her dormitory in 1995 and read a racial epithet scrawled on a welcome banner.
Four years later, the Nigerian student said she is again dealing with tensions. But this time, she speaks from a position of strength. Njoku is the first person of color elected as president of the Student Government Association on the College Park campus.
"If you really want things to happen, you have to get up and make them happen yourself," said Njoku, part of a multi-racial coalition of student leaders who in April were elected to represent the 24,776 undergraduates at Maryland.
There have been a dozen reported hate crimes on campus this year including a recent incident in which the editor of the black student newspaper received a threatening e-mail filled with profanity, that in part read: "Get ...off campus...If you stay, you better watch your back!!!"
Rahman Culver, editor of the Black Explosion newspaper, said he has received hate mail via e-mail.
According to University of Maryland police, there have been 12 hate crimes reported this year. Seven of the incidents targeted people of color and most were against people living on campus.
During a community meeting meeting last week on campus, students and police officials joined with civil rights leaders and members of the Nation of Islam to talk about race relations.
"These are not individual acts, these are acts against a community," said Ron Walters, a professor at the university. "This is not just a black issue. Unless this wrong is addressed by those in the majority and campus leaders, this will not be stopped."
Walters cited data showing that from 1991 to 1996, hate crimes against minorities in the United States have increased.
During the forum, Edythe Flemmings Hall, president of the Prince George's Chapter of the NAACP, said she is considering calling for a Justice Department investigation. She said the the campus administration has not done enough to deal with the situation. Prince George's County Nation of Islam leader Sean Muhammad told the students, "It is obvious that they don't respect you."
But University of Maryland police Chief Kenneth W. Krouse said his officers are working to find out who is sending the racist e-mails. "The investigation is very complex. This is something like the old anonymous phone calls."
Njoku said she angrily went to the office of University of Maryland President C.D. Mote after she learned about the e-mails. But she said she believes the school's administration is handling the situation correctly.
"I intend to stay on top of administration until there is some appeasement achieved between the administration, police department and the student body," Njoku said. "This might seem like a random act to some people, but I see it as one big puzzle that spells out ignorance."
University spokesman George Cathcart said the e-mails are completely unacceptable on the College Park campus.
"We are extremely frustrated because the technology being used makes it very difficult for the university to determine who is sending these messages," Cathcart said. "The university is trying hard to address these things."
Cathcart said that although race relations have improved over the years at College Park, incidents such as these remind school officials that the job is not done. "There has been a task force specifically looking into race-related incidents because things like this are completely inappropriate on campus."
Njoku ran for SGA president on a multi-racial ticket that included other student leaders from the Hispanic, Asian and Jewish communities.
Several students on the ticket, known as "One Party," now hold vice presidencies in the student government.
"We wanted to prove how dynamic a group could be when they encompass all cultures," Njoku said.
Born in Lagos, Njoku said she came with her mother to the United States in 1986 to get a better education. Njoku's father, Charles Njoku, is minister of economics for Nigeria.
"We want to promote unity on this campus as well as bring an end to the problems students from all groups are facing," Njoku said.
CAPTION: Juliana Njoku leads the Student Government Association at the University of Maryland.