Immediate Reactions: Incident Leads to Campus Controversy
KATY BURNELL AND JUSTIN TONEY
When Acting President Rick Hurley heard about the offensive poster displayed by some Jefferson Hall residents that led housekeepers to complain to University police, he was livid.
“I wanted to see them thrown off campus. I don’t think they belong here,” Hurley said.
Now, several days into his investigations of student rights and University policy, Hurley is finding fault with the administration’s capacity to respond. He plans to make his findings known to the community tomorrow.
“I’ve found weaknesses in our system that my report Friday will address,” he said.
Since releasing his first response last Saturday, Hurley has consulted with the University’s attorney, senior administrators, professors, housekeeping staff and students—including fourth-floor Jefferson Hall residents Paul Carter and Rob Mariani.
Carter apologized in a written statement to the campus community for expressing “racial insensitivity”—conduct that he said was “uncalled for and completely out of line.”
Carter’s apology stems from the Oct. 15 incident when housekeeping staff discovered, among other offensive items, an 8.5” by 11” sign depicting a white man with his arm around a sobbing black man which reads “Slavery Re-Instated: Catch Yourself a Strong One” in a community refrigerator on the fourth floor of Jefferson Hall.
“It’s one of the ugliest, most awful things I’ve ever seen. I got choked up just looking at it,” Hurley said.
Meanwhile, some other Jefferson Hall residents have started a Facebook group entitled “Pro-Sexist, Pro-Racist, Pro-Babykilling, Pro-AIDS—That’s Just How We Are”, making light of the same incident, and people who have criticized them for their involvement in it.
Many members of the campus community do not condone their light-hearted approach to the issue. Some say that the administration is not taking the issue seriously enough either.
“Whoever is responsible for this institution are making sure that this remains like a ‘good ol’ boys’ club’ from the south,” said Phil Arnone, President of the Labor Rights Club, which is organizing a march to protest the mistreatment of University staff.
Osob Samantar, president of Women of Color, said that the march should make a statement.
“We’re just trying to show that the students of Mary Washington don’t condone racism,” she said.
Other students and student groups are joining in the discussion.
Senior Merida Marston said she and several of her fellow art majors will spend several hours this afternoon on their hands and knees, cleaning the steps of Jefferson Hall.
“We just decided to get together and do something because something needed to be done,” Marston said.
Students Educating and Empowering for Diversity is hosting an hour-long town-hall style discussion in Monroe 104 tonight at 5 to give students, faculty and staff members a forum for open discussion.
President Hurley said that he has been criticized for allowing the student-leaders of S.E.E.D. to host a forum that some feel should be sponsored by the administration.
“I’ll take that criticism,” said Hurley, who plans to attend but does not intend to field questions about the administrative response to the Jefferson Hall incident.
The group’s co-president Marija Ozolins, who will be moderating the forum alongside Grace Trigger and Jenny Bryant, said that the forum will not be a free-for-all.
“There will be ground rules,” Ozolins said. “This will not just be a venting session.”
The Faculty Senate expressed its appreciation of all efforts taken to “generate productive dialogue about bias-related behaviors” in a statement issued Wednesday night.
However, the statement also requests that the administration fully and directly communicate the findings of its investigation into the Jefferson Hall incident, which is being performed primarily by President Hurley, Vice President for Student Affairs Bernard Chirico and Dean of Students Cedric Rucker.
Rucker and Chirico, who interviewed Carter and Mariani individually in the President’s office Wed. morning, held a fourth-floor community meeting in Jefferson Hall later that night, which was not open to the public.
The office of Student Affairs is keeping close watch on Jefferson Hall in the wake of verbal attacks, threats of physical violence, and an alleged physical attack on one first-floor resident reported by an anonymous Jefferson Hall resident on the Bullet Web Site.
Although no police report of the incident exists, and Residence Life Director Chris Porter was unable to confirm the attack, several students cite the assault as evidence that the incident which occured on the fourth-floor of Jefferson after Fall Break has been blown out of proportion.
The issue has exploded beyond the UMW community with televised reports on the ABC affiliate channel 7 and 6,386 reads on the Bullet Web Site as of Wednesday night.
Attempts to reach the UMW Housekeeping staff were unsuccessful. Roslyn Woolfolk authorized a co-worker to respond, saying that she did not wish to speak with anyone about the Jefferson Hall incident.
President Hurley met with the Jefferson Hall Housekeeping staff on Tuesday morning, and said that their working conditions have recently improved.
“They said things have gotten better in the last week or so. Apparently there were fairly consistent incidents of messes being created on the floor, which to me is a sign of being disrespectful,” Hurley said.
He confirmed that one of the fourth-floor residents, Paul Carter, had personally apologized to the Housekeepers. Hurley said that it was important for him to do the same.
“I wanted to apologize to them for what they’ve had to endure because of the actions of a few,” he said. “I have a gay son. I’ve seen what persecution can do, and be like,” he added.