Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Racial vandalism in residence hall shakes up UMass campus

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(Courtesy of Julie Shamgochian/Daily Collegian)

(Julie Shamgochian/Daily Collegian)

When Josh Odam, a University of Massachusetts sophomore and the Secretary of Diversity of the Student Government Association, returned to his dorm after a long weekend of representing the UMass and the United States Student Association in Ferguson – “lending support to bring justice to the family of Michael Brown,” according to Odam – he was faced with racist graffiti on his dorm room door in Coolidge Hall.

The Black Student Union said in an email that the phrase, “Kill These N*****s,” had been written on the door of one of its members, although they do not explicitly mention the names of Odam, a member of the BSU or any other UMass student.

An email from Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy to students on Tuesday said that two students were targeted. Odam added that, “a lot of his colleagues were targeted” by similar acts.

The act of racial vandalism did not go unnoticed on a UMass campus abuzz with talk of racial diversity.

“(The acts of racial vandalism) are very problematic. It shows that we are nowhere near where we need to be,” Odam said.

The significance of these actions has not been lost upon top school leaders either.

“As the President of the SGA, and as a fellow student of color, I am utterly disgusted by these racist and violent acts of vandalism,” Vinayak Rao said.

“Such expressions of hate and intolerance have no place on this campus,” the chancellor said in his email.

This racially charged graffiti makes its way onto the UMass scene at a time where racial awareness is peaking – this semester alone there was a rally protesting the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and the SGA proposed a plan to increase the presence of underrepresented minority students on campus.

The Diversity Strategic Planning Steering Committee is holding a University Town Hall Meeting to discuss issues regarding diversity, equity and inclusion Thursday from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in Thompson Hall room 106.

Rao, a member of the committee, said that the acts of racial vandalism would be a priority at this meeting.

These actions caught the UMass community completely by surprise. Both Rao and Edward Blaguszewski, the executive director of UMass News and Media Relations, said that such actions are uncommon.

Kylie Fox, a junior at the University, was similarly surprised to hear the news.

“We are a pretty liberal campus,” Fox added.

However, this one action, many said, does not undermine all of the work that UMass has done to address issues of race.

“One action is not indicative of the plans and strategies to increase racial diversity,” said Rao.

What these acts do suggest, Rao said, is that this campus is in need of a “culture change.”

“There needs to be a culture change on campus with how people value and appreciate other people for their differences,” he added. “We should not be taught to tolerate other races, but to value people who are different. We need this culture to permeate through campus.”

The UMass Police Department has launched an investigation into the acts of racial vandalism. Although the investigation is ongoing, these acts will most likely fall under the disturbing behavior section of the Code of Student Conduct, which prohibits “threatening violence to others” and “damaging or destroying property.”

Rao said that the SGA would also be taking action in response to this incident, although he is not sure what that action will look like yet.

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected]

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