Another hate act hits Beloit College
Another hate crime has hit Beloit College this past week, drawing frustration and anger from the campus community.
Unfortunately, this act is perhaps nothing new for many students and faculty. Over the past few years, a series of hate crimes have occured at Beloit College. Last Spring, two anti-semitic incidents targeting the same student drew powerful reactions throughout campus. (Another disturbing crime involving anti-muslim graffiti later turned out to be a hoax.) And in 2015, a racial slur was spray painted on the side of Whitney Hall.
This pattern of hate crimes and administration’s response to this latest incident has led to students demanding change.
Students, faculty and staff received a Community Alert from Bruce Heine, Beloit College’s Director of Security, on Monday, April 2. The email from Heine stated, “late Sunday evening…Campus Security found new graffiti on the northwest exterior wall of the Art Annex, an area where graffiti is not allowed. The graffiti included racist language.”
It also informed recipients that the Beloit Police had been notified and that a police report had been filed. However, “the officer stated that the graffiti did not appear to contain any direct threats but they would continue to investigate the source and nature of the graffiti.”
Aside from outlining how the sanctioned use of the graffiti wall had been immediately suspended, the email remained vague and no further updates were immediately made until Tuesday afternoon, when President Scott Bierman sent an email to “condemn” the racist act.
Black Students United (BSU) held an emergency meeting on Tuesday night, during which its members demanded further clarification from administration. With dozens of students, and various staff and faculty crowded into BSU’s clubhouse, President Bierman, Provost and Dean of the College Ann Davies and Dean of Students Christina Klawitter faced various questions from those in attendance.
Klawitter clarified that black students were directly targeted. Observing a photo she had on her phone, she revealed that the graffiti stated “Fuck n**s” and “KKK for life.”
The fact that this significant detail was omitted from the initial alert was particularly egregious to a number of students and faculty. Additionally, students noted that the email from Bierman did not come until Students for an Inclusive Campus (SIC) and BSU pressured him and the administration.
These organizations and others on campus have been asking why students that were targeted have to consistently ask for administration to take action, rather than receiving support. The emergency meeting was a glaring example of this, they stated. After all, it was only after students’ insistence that Bierman, Klawitter and Davies, offered further details and responses.
In response to this, Bierman offered his apologies. “It was a mistake,” he said that students did not receive information sooner. He added, “I cannot tell you how sorry I am. The great failure was a complete inability to convey to you how much you mean to me, and to how much I care about you and how much this institution cares about you.”
Bierman sent an email on Wednesday with “updates on campus response to hate act.” In the email he included “lessons from the emergency meeting held at Black Students United House.”
Bierman also promised “improvements to the College’s Hate Crime and Hate Act Response Protocols” which he stated a draft would be presented to “student representatives of Black Students United and Students for an Inclusive Campus by Friday, April 6, with the finalized version in place by April 11. The protocol will be publicly available on the college’s website. “
Students, however, continued efforts to address their frustrations. Another meeting was held Wednesday April 4. Originally planned to be held in Mathers, the meeting was moved to D.K’s due to the large amount of students who attended, making it the largest BSU meeting in history. The entire room was full of faculty, staff and students. Notably absent were Klawitter and Bierman who sat upstairs in Moore Lounge at a different lecture. They did not come downstairs after the lecture was done to address those in attendance.
The meeting, which lasted two full hours, was opened by Eriq Johnson’19, the Vice President of BSU, who thanked everyone for coming. “I’m so grateful that everyone is here,” he said.
Johnson explained the logistics of the incident, and what he saw as a lacking response from administration before handing the floor over to Superior Murphy’21 and Kaela Hadaway’20.
Murphy, a member of SIC, explained that President Bierman and the rest of the administration did not respond to the hate crime with a message of support until they were “called out by SIC” after the group investigated. “None of this is [administration’s] own doing.”
Hadaway expressed her frustration with BSU’s previous meeting with President Bierman and Provost Davies. “I had to sound a certain way so I didn’t make administration uncomfortable.”
Coretta Franklin’19 then got up to speak about actions that the student body could take. She listed ideas of protest, including a sit-in at admissions and opened up the discussion to take down student ideas as well.
Critical Identity Studies Professor M. Shadee Malaklou expressed that outside media coverage would be important in the administration’s further actions.
A common sentiment echoed throughout the meeting was a call to inform prospective students about the pattern of crimes throughout the last four years.
To close, Johnson once again thanked everyone for coming and encouraged them to attend the Townhall and the next BSU meeting where President Bierman and Ann Davies would attend, on Wednesday, April 11. He also asked those in attendance to take out their phones and take a picture of the room, “I think it would be great if we all posted our photos on social media with the hashtag ‘we need change.’”
Posters began to appear throughout campus. One stated, “WE DON’T HAVE A GRAFFITI PROBLEM. WE HAVE A RACISM PROBLEM,” the poster was signed with a “[brought to you by]: ‘an anti-racist institution’” and it was marked to be taken down “when administration is accountable.”
Mellody Strahan’18 also taped posters throughout campus. One draped over the M-I Bell stated, “Fuck White Supremacy,” while another was taped in front of Middle College with a message to administration stating, “our blood is on your doorstep and you smile in our face.” An additional poster by Strahan directly referenced the Community Alert, “the officer stated that the graffiti did not contain any direct threat.”
When asked why she placed these posters, she told the Round Table that the one on the bell was similar to one she made last year in response to Trump’s election but that they “were fueled by rage and defiance at the certainty that this will happen again.”
While there appeared to be a lack of support from administration, faculty and staff members turned to the campus email bulletin board to offer comfort and some thoughts about the incident.
Atiera Coleman, on behalf of OADI, Office for Inclusive Living and Learning (OILL), the Critical Identities Studies office (CRIS) and Weissberg Program in Human Rights, wanted to make it clear to students impacted by the racist act that “we stand by and for you. Consider the OADI building in South College and the OILL office in Pearsons to be a safe haven where you can come and just be. Be yourself, unapologetically. We cannot let fear silence our voices. Inclusion and equity cannot just be words we throw around without action. We do not stand for hate. We stand up for all those who are targeted.”
Art professor, George Williams, attributed the hate crime to rhetoric on campus, “like any other people, if you do not invite/hear the opinions, perspectives, and representations of ‘all,’ then those who feel/believe that they have been pushed aside will act to let their voices be heard.”
However, Jesse Carr, a Postdoctoral Fellow with the OADI, pushed back against Professor Williams. “With all due respect to the many members of the Beloit community who are thinking and working through the fallout of this latest event, I must object to the characterization of this week’s incident as somehow indicative of conservative ideas being silenced or marginalized. …Racism and racial hate are not “conservative ideas.” Carr said.
The week culminated with a town hall, similar to the gathering held in response to last year’s hate crime.
Some noted however, that the event last year was organized by administration for the day after the threatening anti-muslim graffiti was found. Students also pointed to how many more emails were sent last year in comparison to this year’s incident. While nine emails were sent in the span of five days last spring, only three have been received so far. Two of them, students speculate, only after pressure from campus.
For Alexandria Kohn’19 she recognized that “the school [can not] end all hate crimes that happen inside of its walls.” But, her “frustration lies in their slow and nonchalant reaction to a hate crime directed towards the black students on the campus. From their slow response in getting the incident out through email, to the wording particularly “non-threatening”, the slow response from are president and the lack of community outreach after.”
During the Town Hall on Thursday, Bierman opened by attempting to make it clear that he has “committed himself to support” students of color on campus. He also recognized that the incident affects all but, “the weight falls far more heavily on African American” students. He once again apologized “for taking far too long to express my public condemnation…and unwavering support” of students. “I let you down,” Bierman said. He also promised to act “more truthfully going forward,” recognizing that “we continue to fail.”
Bierman also promised “new hate act protocols” going forward. While he acknowledged that this might not mean much to some students, “it’s a start.”
Dr Lisa Anderson-Levy followed President Bierman by emphasizing that “in the week that we remember the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s death” the campus comes together “again” to respond to “white supremacy.”
Superior Murphy’19 opened her own statements as a representative for SIC by stating, “Black lives don’t matter.” She believes that the fact that the event was occuring five days after the incident “is a testament to sentiments of anti-blackness” at Beloit College. “Students should not have to work to make campus care for them,” she noted. While Beloit continues to “promote racism,” she added, “do not use me for your posters, admitted student panels, or Town Hall meetings.” The statement was met with much applause.
Murphy’s sentiments are not isolated. In classroom conversations, various students noted that the college was once again handling the incident as if it had never occurred before. Just last year at the all campus gathering, Bierman said, “I want to fix it, I want to fix it now and I want to make it better, …yet I know that is way beyond my skills.”
Why then, after several similar incidents, has Bierman and the rest of the administration not learned how to deal with hate crimes, some students asked. And why, is a protocol only being formulated now?
Eva Laun-Smith’21 echoed this. The “lack of transparency has and continues to be appalling,” she said. “It took two days of questioning to receive an update…it took five days” for this to happen. “Five days is too long,” she added.
BSU member Tim Barnes’20 said that black students on campus are “hurt and disappointed” and that the “vague email” sent by administration “that doesn’t call [the act] by its real name” (referencing the label of graffiti rather than racism) would have been “all we would have gotten…were it not for student intervention.”
To support the marginalized community on campus, Barnes said, “come to [BSU] meetings” and help them organize. Additionally, he said that “we don’t pay thousands” for the school to “behave as bystanders” and to demand that the college become “proactive not reactive”
“We are not asking, we are demanding a change”, Barnes concluded.
Professor Majeed with Beloit’s Religious Studies department reiterated that “we have been here too many times” and administration has made “too many promises.” Majeed said, “I don’t know what it will take,” and that not until “action is evident” will it be clear if the college “learned [their] lesson.” The “recycling” of “a message,” she also added, made it clear the priorities of Beloit College. “What are we going to do?…I’m tired of asking that question…I’ve been here too many times,” she said before once again taking her seat in the crowd.
For now, Beloit College should perhaps prepare for national attention to the pattern of hate at the college.
Dr. Dennis Baskin, Vice President of the Beloit branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took to the stage and directly faced Bierman. He announced that he would be contacting the local, state and national NAACP leaders in hopes of having them contact the Department of Education and request them to open an investigation into the pattern of hate at Beloit College.
Baskin also stated that he would be calling “CNN for coverage” and, to the gasps and applause of those in attendance, also stated that he hopes Reverend Al Sharpton could also be contacted.
After the event, Klawitter sent an update through email. In it she notified campus that, “We were informed this afternoon that as part of their procedure, the Beloit Police will be sending this case to the FBI as a hate crime. We have shared with the police that since the incident, we have not received any more leads or any new information, but we will provide anything we learn to the Police immediately.”
Additional reporting from Clare Eigenbrode, Lillie Herbst, and Audrey Summers