On Tuesday, Charles A. Wight, president of the public university on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, announced further changes. Those included creating a task force made up of students, faculty, staff and community members to set goals by early March, and relaunching the school’s office of diversity and inclusion. A new role, chief diversity officer, will report to the university president and will lead implementation of a strategic plan “that will provide students, faculty and staff with educational opportunities informed by multiple points of view, life experiences, abilities, ethnicities, cultures and belief systems,” Wight wrote in a message to campus.
He also told students about changes already made based on what administrators heard, including alerting the campus more quickly about incidents — with updates on Twitter, Instagram and text messages — and security changes including increased police presence on campus, updated security cameras and emergency preparedness training.
Students led an effort in November to cover the walls in Fulton Hall, where the offensive graffiti was found, with notes countering the racist messages. Wight wrote that he “was especially heartened by the thoughtful and poignant messages students left throughout Fulton Hall. … I am proud that they have chosen to fight hatred with one of the most powerful resources at their disposal — positivity.”
Salisbury is not the only school struggling with offensive messages. At Syracuse University, over a dozen reported racist and anti-Semitic incidents in November — and an occupation led by black students of a campus building demanding that more be done in response — brought national attention.
The group #NotAgainSU announced it would end the occupation at Syracuse, saying collective action had forced the administration to put protections in place for students. But the group vowed to continue protesting, demanding the resignation of Chancellor Kent D. Syverud and other university leaders. “Under his leadership,” the group wrote on social media, “racism has been emboldened on Syracuse University’s campus.”
Some students were angry that the school seemed to be downplaying the initial incidents, but as events escalated, Syverud responded in personal terms about the toll hatred can take. He described what his own mixed-race family endured when living in the South as he fought to make affirmative action permissible in college admissions. “My kids were threatened, my wife was subjected to many racial epithets, our car tires were slashed, and my kid’s dog was shot,” he said.
He agreed to recommendations from student groups, including requiring diversity training for faculty and staff, improving communication about racist and other offensive incidents, and making sure security cameras on campus were working, with suggested revisions to three of 19 demands from #NotAgainSU to comply with legal or other requirements.
A student organizer from #NotAgainSU, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she said she was worried about her safety, said the group never had discussions with Syverud about their demands. And she said despite the university agreeing to the students’ recommendations, they would continue to protest because the administration had shown it was unable to prevent continued hostility on campus.
University spokeswoman Sarah Scalese said it “is simply untrue” that the chancellor and administrators did not discuss the student demands; she said they met with students from the group to do just that. The group has students with different perspectives, Scalese said, which made discussions more difficult. She said the university met in good faith with students, and the chancellor has asked his leadership team to move forward with the recommendations.