CSS responds to racist incidents

When Jessica Doss went outside her College of St. Scholastica apartment building on the morning of Feb. 3, she saw racist terms and a swastika drawn in the frost on her friend's car.

When Jessica Doss went outside her College of St. Scholastica apartment building on the morning of Feb. 3, she saw racist terms and a swastika drawn in the frost on her friend's car.

"We all thought it was a joke at first," she said. "We realized it was not a joke."

Doss alerted the car's owner, who is white. The car's owner lives with international students who are black, one of whom drives the car frequently and whom Doss believes was the target. The presumed target wouldn't comment for this story because she fears for her safety.

The students called campus security, who filed a report, Doss said.

After a diversity panel with students, staff and faculty two weeks ago in which this incident and three others were brought to light, Doss said she expected a response from the college. There wasn't one until Wednesday, when a campuswide e-mail addressing and condemning the incidents was sent by St. Scholastica President Larry Goodwin.


"We may have felt [initially] through the panel that there was an open airing of this, and discussion," said Bob Ashenmacher, executive director of media relations at St. Scholastica. "As best we can tell these are isolated incidents. We can't prevent hatred from bubbling up but we can nip it in the bud."

Part of Goodwin's e-mail states: "St. Scholastica is an institution of higher learning, dedicated to the eradication of ignorance and the prejudice and violence that can flow from ignorance. ... To the best of our knowledge, there is no sustained pattern of hate speech or hate crime at St. Scholastica. ... Nonetheless, there is no such thing as 'racism lite.' Prejudice is not part of the program, and those who think it is should seek another home."

Students caught committing a racist act at St. Scholastica face punishment ranging from counseling through probation, suspension and expulsion. For faculty and staff, punishment could include termination and, in all cases, authorities may be contacted. The accused is given protection under grievance procedures.

Other incidents at St. Scholastica this year include one in which American Indian students were targeted in their residence hall, and two classroom incidents when insensitive comments were made, Ashenmacher said.

"It's not as clear that they [in the classroom] were motivated racially," he said.

The American Indian students who were targeted requested privacy, so school officials will not discuss the nature of the incident.

Students have talked to St. Scholastica diversity advocate Joseph Bouie about what's happened, Bouie said.

"I can understand that there is some racism on campus; I am a person of color myself ... but that's not what St. Scholastica stands for," Bouie said. "As soon as he [Goodwin] was informed, he didn't hesitate to take steps."


Other Minnesota schools have addressed their own racist incidents. Threats were aimed at black students in October at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, and racist graffiti at St. Cloud State University that began in November has continued.

"I appreciate the fact that we are not waiting until something tragic happens ... before letting it be known," Bouie said. "If [the perpetrators] don't understand, they will understand now that it simply will not be tolerated."

Bouie said in his eight years with his job he has heard of other isolated incidents of racism, but none so serious.

"We are growing in diversity and it is no longer a homogeneous institution," he said. "We draw students from all over ... urban America all the way to rural America, not to mention several countries around the world."

People may struggle with those differences, he said.

"You're pre-coded with stuff you have to work through and when you're challenged about those assumptions it can feel very uncomfortable," he said.

Those at St. Scholastica who encounter racism should not remain silent, he said.

Doss said she would like to see more education on diversity, and students and staff participating in ethnic events at the college.


"There's just such a lack of interest from the American students," she said. "With education, people won't have so many prejudices. People take these racial incidents and have been quiet. With quietness it just allows it to happen."

JANA HOLLINGSWORTH covers higher education. She can be reached at (218) 279-5501 or by e-mail at .

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