The Shippensburg University community is grappling with another race-based incident on its campus.
More than 20 campus community members gathered on the academic quad Monday afternoon to demonstrate their frustrations with the continued incidents.
Students, staff, faculty and administrators peacefully sat with signs that read, “Black Lives Matter” and “End Racism Now.”
The campus community was first made aware of the incident Saturday morning in an email sent by SU’s Chief Diversity Officer Stephanie Jirard.
“We received a credible report of a race-based incident last night in one of the residence halls, specifically the use of the n-word written on a board,” Jirard wrote.
In a follow-up email sent Monday morning, officials announced the Shippensburg University Police identified a suspect in the incident. According to the email, officers obtained evidence that led to a confession. The person responsible is a juvenile and not a student at the university or a member of the Shippensburg community.
However, officials referred the case to the Dean of Students Office for an investigation into a potential Code of Conduct violation. Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, SU updated its residence hall guest policies. No outside guests are allowed in the residence halls.
Jirard shared the university’s bias-response protocol which includes these steps: Assess any threats of imminent harm, investigate to determine whether the behavior violates any policies or laws. If so, refer for adjudication and discipline, educate the offender and repair the harm done where possible.
The protocol also is to support victims and the community and communicate to the community about the incident, support resources and the university’s actions.
She also invited community members to a “Drown Out the Hate” Zoom where around 50 members from various levels of the community gathered to talk about the incident and called for action and change.
Members of the community praised the university for listening to concerns about communication during the Townhalls Against Racism over the summer. Community members called for more information about the incident and the process the university follows when one occurs.
Other community members shared their grief and concerns over another race-based incident occurring on campus. Various students asked if the university officials would follow through on their promises. A couple of students echoed the feeling of broken trust in recent years.
Jirard responded by telling the students to, “Demand our [the university] response today, demand our response tomorrow and demand our response the next day.”
In a phone interview on Sunday, Jirard further explained the university’s response and her hopes for the community.
Jirard, who was appointed to her position in May, said officials held “Town Halls Against Racism” over the summer to engage the community.
“We had to do something,” Jirard said. “We had to put a plan in action.”
During the sessions, Jirard said they repeatedly heard a call for more communication about incidents and how the university is responding.
“What we heard was the university’s response to race-based incidents appeared anemic,” she said.
The university did have a protocol in place, but Jirard said there is now more information available to the community while still meeting legal privacy requirements.
“We are being much more mindful of letting the community know information that we can disclose,” Jirard said.
Jirard also noted the university is showing more of an immediacy in offering forums for the community to gather and process these events.
Jirard held a Zoom where members of the community came together and discussed their reactions to the incident.
“The community is in pain when these things happen. There seems to be a frustration that these incidents indeed do happen,” Jirard said. “What I heard for yesterday was a call for a unified response.”
She said the administration has a responsibility to make sure the university is aware of what is acceptable conduct. Jirard added that the students have and must continue to also encourage one another to engage in the “Raider Way” of respect.
Jirard encouraged students to support and challenge one another.
“Speak your truth about race. It doesn’t matter what race you are, every person is an expert on race. If you were raised here or if you came from another country and spent time, you have witnessed American race relations,” Jirard said. “A lot of people are afraid of saying the wrong thing, so they don’t say anything. They have good hearts and good intentions, but people need to learn from one another.”
She explained how attending SU is an opportunity to get to learn from different people. Jirard said she has heard students time and time again talk about how they were never exposed to someone different than them until they got to the university.
Jirard said that it can all start with a conversation.
“You have possible solutions to the race problem in America. But you have to have some willingness and courage to engage everyone in the dialogue,” she said.