Following Rowan University’s first week of classes, a time typically associated with the new-found freedom of young college students, a freshman student residing at Holly Pointe Commons reported a recurring incident of racial vandalism upon her doorstep.
On Sunday, Sept. 11, a female student walked outside of her dorm room to reportedly see the words “I hate n—-rs,” written over her door decorations. Upon taking her decorations down, she details that the racially-motivated message was found a second time– but that they were now scrawled directly onto her door.
“I had many feelings [when I found out about the incident]… sadness because my sister had to have this happen to her. Rage because it’s happened to many,” said Chi W., the older sister of the student— who has requested anonymity to protect her sister’s privacy at this time.
Following this incident, the students reported the hate speech to Rowan’s Department of Public Safety accordingly and were informed that the department would take the appropriate actions to investigate the matter.
W. took to social media to air her frustration about the re-occurring, racially-motivated acts of hate speech, violence and discriminatory behavior that people of color have found themselves up against while attending Rowan University.
“Rowan University has had this done to families of color multiple times, but boasts diversity and inclusion as a selling point,” W. said. “I’m livid with this occurring at Rowan year after year. Something needs to be done.”
Following W.’s post to Instagram, which has garnered approximately 6,000 likes and roughly 300 comments at the time of publication, Rowan released an official “Rowan Daily Mail” regarding the matter on Sept. 12.
“At Rowan, there is absolutely no room for discrimination or harassment, whether written or spoken,” the email, signed by Kevin S. Koett; Vice President for Student Affairs and the Dean of Students, Dr. Monika Williams Shealey; Senior Vice President of Rowan’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative (DEI), and Michael Kantner: Assistant Vice President for Public Safety and Emergency Management, read. “Words matter and can be weaponized to intimidate and cause harm.”
Emphasizing Rowan University’s commitment to non-discrimination methods, the email made evident that the university does not tolerate “disrespectful and discriminatory behavior.” The student’s family, however, views this situation as a reminder of the concerning and consistent racial tensions that continue to plague the Rowan community.
“It’s deeply troubling whenever one of our own faces an ugly, racist act on campus,” Rowan University President Ali A. Housman said in an additional email to the student body sent on Tuesday, Sept. 13. “It goes against everything we are striving for here at Rowan and it will not be tolerated.”
After an investigation by the university, two individuals were arrested– neither were students at Rowan University. Alston W. Willis, 19, was charged with writing the slur with the “purpose to harass,” and Rowan’s Department of Public Safety charged Danny Agastino with trespassing. According to an email sent by Rowan University to students, Police are currently investigating a third suspect and the student that admitted them to the building will be held accountable.
“While this attack may have seemed trivial to the perpetrators involved, such serious actions can have long-term consequences on people’s lives,” the email read.
The impact of this instance, alongside the voices of advocacy, echoed through the halls of Holly Pointe Commons, where students described their heightened anxiety after hearing about the incident, and their frustration with Rowan’s lack of action.
“Rowan should help [the victim] because that’s not something that should happen,” Madison Gibbs, a freshman who also resides in Holly Pointe, said. “It was unacceptable and [Rowan] should obviously do something about it to change this place so that people actually feel safe around here.”
As the senior vice president of the DEI, Williams Shealey believes that creating a community at Rowan where racial injustices face a zero-tolerance policy is just one step of many that the student body can take to help eliminate these instances of hate.
“If we don’t tolerate bad behavior as a community, it won’t exist,” Williams Shealey said. “Make sure that if you’re not feeling threatened, but someone else is, that you are being an appropriate ally…an advocate for change.”
The DEI is responsible not only for the promotion of events that advocate for equity and inclusion but also for the education of students and staff on campus diversity. This ranges from their DEI Certificate Program for faculty and staff to the summit the DEI hosted last April, which featured keynote speakers, community discussion and sustainable change. However, Williams Shealey notes that despite the division’s work and effort to make a change, the team at DEI knows they have a long way to go.
“When you come to Rowan, you are coming to a place where you believe it is safe for you to be who you are and who you want to be,” Williams Shealey said. “And our job as administrators, as faculty and as staff members is to be able to create that culture and climate… And if we’re not doing our jobs, then students need to hold us accountable.”
Unfortunately, actions and speech such as the vandalism that occurred over the weekend have long been a part of Rowan’s history. Just last year, the faculty and staff came under fire for their handling of a student reporting racial hate speech being used against her by another student. Allegedly, while the student targeted by this speech was brought in over six times to discuss the investigation she had opened, the student she alleged was responsible for this speech– and a possible witness– was never brought.
“Rowan needs to be changed from the ground up,” W. expressed. “Members of the Rowan community can help my sister by being an ally to all. They can speak to their representatives and do all they can to enact change.”
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