Members of the Shippensburg University community are urging unity following the use of racial slurs against two African-American students last week.
Student Government Association (SGA) Senators Isaiah Smith and Danielle Williams, who represent Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA), addressed the incident and reiterated MSA’s message of inclusion.
According to Smith, two students harassed two African-American students with racial slurs and words. The students did not retaliate physically, instead doing what he called “the right thing” by calling the police, said Smith.
“The police are handling it, as well as the university, which is doing an investigation of conduct,” he said.
Both Smith and Williams recounted their own experiences at SU, noting that race-related incidents have occurred every year they have attended the university.
Smith said that minority members of the campus community have shared their safety concerns with him, looking for something to be done.
Williams said after incidents like last week’s, individuals feel racial battle fatigue.
“It’s like experiencing a trauma. When you didn’t experience it before, you had nothing to worry about and weren’t concerned about the possibilities. But once you experience it, now it is on your mind. Is it going to happen to someone else? Is it going to happen to me again?” she said.
An incident similar to what happened last week led to the creation of ACT (Ask. Communicate. Teach Tolerance).
According to MSA’s website, ACT is a campaign that seeks to stimulate a healthy, community-wide consciousness and discussion of race that confront the uncomfortable realities of racial differences.
“ACT will have a reemergence in the future,” Smith said.
Instead of focusing on the words of a couple of individuals, Smith, Williams and the members of MSA are instead looking to spur change.
“This is a good time to keep this momentum and bring it into these events so people can have open and honest conversations without feeling as though they are being threatened or attacked,” Smith said.
Smith said MSA offers various resources including ACT and other retention support groups to help educate and comfort the community, as they must deal with what has happened and continue to pursue their education.
“It takes a collective effort (to deal with attacks). People tend to come here when things like that happen,” he said.
Williams explained that in order for the campus climate to change, MSA cannot stand on its own.
“Everyone has to pitch in,” she said. “MSA shouldn’t just be highlighted when these situations occur on campus. We’re here every day.”
“MSA and its events are a place for everyone. It is open to everyone, a place where you go to find your peace. To find your home,” Smith added. “Come do the work with us.
“Please come here if you need our help. We would love to support you because you are our family,” Smith said.
When asked how the campus community can move forward, Smith stressed the importance of conversation.
“Solidarity, unity, conversation to start with. Conversation that leads into action, as well as having an open mind. You can’t just think in the way that you have always thought. You have to step outside of yourself,” he said
“Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, you’re never going to make progress without struggle,” Smith said.
Smith added, “Nothing changes if nothing changes. If we don’t change, neither will it.”
In an open letter sent to campus members via email, the entire SGA called out “bigotry and hate speech and vehemently denounced such acts on SU’s campus.”
The members added, “This is OUR campus, a place where all should feel safe while reaching the shared goal of pursing a higher education.”
SU President Laurie Carter addressed the incident through an email sent out to campus community members Friday.
“Earlier this week, racial slurs were used toward students on campus. Such actions are unacceptable, and a full investigation is underway,” said Carter. “Acts of incivility are contradictory to who we are as a community and the values we hold most dear.”
She encouraged the campus community to participate in the activities included in the Week of Human Understanding.
“Shippensburg University stands for inclusion, diversity and the mutual respect of all people,” she said.