Third racist incident targeting Melville Hall this semester sparks discussion forum

N-word was scrawled across a poster denouncing racism

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Third racist incident targeting Melville Hall this semester sparks discussion forum

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Chris McLaughlin, Collegian Staff

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For the third time this semester, Melville Hall in the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area has experienced a racist incident, this time involving the N-word being scrawled across a poster in a stairwell that was denouncing racism. Students and administrators gathered on Nov. 8 to discuss this latest incident in the freshman dormitory.

The incident, detailed in a campus-wide email sent to students by Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and detailed at the forum by Jean A. MacKimmie, Director of Residence Education, is thought to have occurred sometime between 10 and 11 a.m. on Nov. 8, when it was discovered by a worker in a third-floor stairwell and was immediately reported to the UMass Police Department. The poster, signed by many students to denounce hate, had been defaced by the racist epithet written over it in pink marker.

The poster was seized by police, who launched an investigation. Subbaswamy said in his statement,  “In an effort to identify the perpetrator, UMPD investigators are reviewing footage from surveillance cameras, collecting data from card readers at residence hall entrances and interviewing staff and residents.” He added, “To enhance security, an additional surveillance camera has been installed in the building, residence hall security staffing will be enhanced, and security patrols in the vicinity of Melville will be increased.”

This incident comes after an initial incident in Melville Hall earlier this semester in which a racist threat was written in a Melville bathroom and an act of vandalism on a Melville stairwell sign was found, said by some to have resembled a Confederate flag, in addition to the discovery of flyers for a white nationalist group on campus the day before this most recent occurrence.

At 7 p.m., over 100 students, most from Melville Hall, gathered in the Melville Main Lounge with administrators including Dean of Students Cara Appel-Silbaugh, staff from the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health, educators from the Emerging Scholars program and Residence Director for the Melville/Thoreau cluster Amanda Morgida, to discuss what happened and continued action going forward.

At the start of the two-hour long forum, students and administrators set agreed guidelines for those who wished to speak in order to have a civil dialogue where one person would speak at a time as students aired their opinions and concerns.

Topics discussed included constructive criticism of the administration’s handling of this and the previous incidents, the stationing of a police officer in the Melville lobby, the expansion of security cameras and students talking about the potential identity of the perpetrator (or perpetrators), which remains unknown. Students were particularly keen on making meetings, such as the forum, mandatory and developing an online course on Moodle for incoming UMass students tackling the subjects of racism and diversity — similar to one currently about alcohol.

Freshman legal studies major and Melville resident Sazia Patel believes mandatory meetings and courses should be held in the future.

“I think it’s super super important that everyone is like forced kind of to come to these mandatory meetings and sit down and have this conversation,” Patel said. “No one likes talking about race, it’s a super uncomfortable topic, but I think the person who did this needs to be at the meeting and feel that same uncomfortableness that we’re living every day.”

She added, “And then the mandatory education surrounding racism and diversity before coming to UMass. Through Moodle we have the alcohol education thing that we do, so those two things, that’s what we’re pushing.”

Despite being frustrated about this latest incident, Patel said, “I think that having the space to kind of just talk about it and the administration who seemed like they were willing to listen this time, I think we’re hopeful. We’re going to focus on building community and healing and rebuilding ourselves and I think the administration is going to help us with that, so I’m more hopeful this time than I was.”

Fellow freshman Melville resident and social thought and political economics major Sonya Epstein agreed and said, “I think it went a lot better than the last one. I think a lot of it had to do with [the administration’s] immediate response to it and how they implemented the critiques we gave them last time especially with the transparency, making it more urgent, using better wording to really portray how this was a racist hate crime. I think it was a good space, but I guess there’s always room for improvement.”

Epstein further said, “I think the first time it was obviously really scary for people and it was frightening and everything, but after the initial shockwave it think it helped build community within here, but now that it’s the third incident people are feeling really unsafe. I can kind of feel the tension around here,” adding, “There was that aspect that was brought up during the forum that we don’t know who did this, there’s a lot of fear of what if they’re living here and I’m just worried because it’s impacting people’s educational rights that they come here to get.”

In his statement to the campus community, Chancellor Subbaswamy concluded, “My message to these purveyors of ignorance, intolerance and hate who hide in anonymity is that we will not be intimidated. We will not be deterred in our efforts to continually strive for a more inclusive community that welcomes all and embraces the dignity of all. To all of our students who have been the targets of hate, do not despair. We care about you and stand with you. These hateful acts strengthen the resolve of every member of the UMass community to reject hatred in all its forms and stand united in defense of tolerance, diversity and inclusion.”

Chris McLaughlin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @ChrisMcLJournal.