On a Wednesday in late August, the University of Maryland paused to reflect.

A bell chimed shortly after noon. Students and faculty had been asked to observe a moment of silence — in class, offices, dorm rooms. Cafeterias and cash registers on the campus went silent. And outside Memorial Chapel, a crowd gathered to remember the man killed on the College Park campus, a death that occurred during a year of heightened tensions at schools across the United States.

Sarah Turyahikayo, a U-Md. sophomore studying environmental science and policy, was outside the chapel, where students watched as chaplains of different faiths wound through a garden labyrinth.

"I wanted to be around other staff and students," said Turyahikayo, 19, of Germantown. "Just so, you know, I could talk to other people about it and see who else in the campus is reacting."

And so the start to the university's academic year included a somber reflection on what happened just a few months earlier. The moment of silence was to honor Richard Collins III, the 23-year-old Bowie State University student killed on the U-Md. campus in May.

In many ways, Maryland's experience mirrors those at other institutions across the country.


A bus stop shelter serves as a makeshift memorial for Richard Collins III. (Sarah Larimer/TWP)

In September 2016, racially charged fliers were spotted at the University of Michigan. The Anti-Defamation League in March warned of an "unprecedented outreach effort" by white supremacists to recruit students on U.S. college campuses. In May, bananas were found hanging from strings "in the shape of nooses" at American University in Northwest Washington.

Authorities are still working to determine whether the man accused of killing Collins should be charged with a hate crime. Collins, a newly commissioned second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, was black. Sean Urbanski, the man charged with murder in the stabbing death, is white.

Regardless of the decision, the death set U-Md. apart, in a grim and alarming way.

"The murder of Richard Collins was an obvious significant turning point for a lot of people," said Roger Worthington, the university's recently appointed chief diversity officer. "It woke a lot of people up."

The death was not the only troubling incident in College Park. It followed other unsettling discoveries, including a noose in a fraternity house and white supremacist fliers on campus. Worthington said he intends for this year to be different.

"I want people to feel like there are steps being taken, there are actions being taken, to make sure we're addressing the challenges and problems that we do have and that we are expanding upon things that we're doing well," he said.

In a message sent to the U-Md. community in late August, the university's president, Wallace Loh, detailed the recent ways in which Maryland has been working to improve its campus climate.

"There are many, many things, and I think it's the cumulative impact, not any one thing in particular," Loh said in an interview with The Washington Post.

He noted in his message that U-Md. is collaborating with the Anti-Defamation League, and a school spokeswoman said the ADL will speak with senior administrators and lead discussions for students and faculty.

Loh also said the position of chief diversity officer, which Worthington holds, is being elevated in the university hierarchy.

"That also sends a signal," Loh said. "We're taking this important work out of the periphery of the campus and putting it to the center, from the 10-yard line to the 50-yard line."

A council of students, faculty and staff has recommended expanding the list of prohibited items for athletic venues to include swastikas and nooses. On Thursday, the university announced that 18 people had been appointed to a task force charged with making the campus more welcoming to all students.

"We can do better," Loh said. "We need to do more."

Collins, the man who was killed in May, died shortly before he was set to graduate from Bowie State, a historically black school about 15 miles from College Park. Urbanski, the man charged in connection with the fatal stabbing at a bus stop, was a U-Md. student at the time.

"I'm hoping that students of different cultures and backgrounds, we will all band together," said Yeamah Rainsbury, an 18-year-old U-Md. sophomore studying computer science. "Come together and realize what happened in May, this is wrong and can never happen again."

Maryland has had these difficult conversations before. In 2007, a noose was found hanging from a tree on the campus. And in 1999, black student leaders received racist threats in the mail.

There has already been an episode this school year that sparked concerns. An email accidentally sent to students registering for a mock trial team described the Latino students as "mediocre" and "pretty bad." The comments were written by a woman whose father coached the mock trial team. She was also involved in coaching the team. Both have resigned their positions, according to a university spokeswoman.

Turyahikayo, who is African American, said she came to Maryland from a diverse community and hadn't experienced racism previously. But in her freshman year, she started to hear "hateful statements."

She recalled a male U-Md. student who questioned her academic credentials, telling her she had probably been accepted into the university because of her race and questioning her test scores and GPA. It was hurtful, she said, because she had worked hard in high school. She called Maryland's problems with race "very apparent."

"I wouldn't be surprised if a freshman has already experienced it their first week of move-in, you know?" she said.

Collins was stabbed not far from the chapel garden where Turyahikayo and other students had gathered, about a five-minute walk. On the day of the moment of reflection, flowers and a journal sat on a bench at the bus stop shelter.

Collins's picture was displayed at the shelter, taped near a shuttle schedule update and above a poster for the moment of reflection.

"Richard Collins III," read the words under the photo. "A gentle soul, gone too soon."