Zero tolerance

Selena Kibira (BLM shirt) and her friend Sade Lawal listen as Roy Roach speaks during the Zero-Tolerance rally outside Twamley Hall on Friday, September 30, 2016.

Dakota Student / Nicholas Nelson

Selena Kibira (BLM shirt) and her friend Sade Lawal listen as Roy Roach speaks during the Zero-Tolerance rally outside Twamley Hall on Friday, September 30, 2016.

Student hold zero tolerance rally outside Twamley Hall

Situated just outside Twamley Hall, under the watchful eyes of the George Henry Walsh statue, students sporting t-shirts reading “One UND / #blacklives / Matter” began to arrive just before 2 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 30.   

Bringing light to recent acts of discrimination on the campus, the students in attendance ranged from African American, Caucasian, Native American and Latino, among many others.

As members of the student body took center stage and shared their frustrations, hopes and observations, a common theme became clear: stand together.

The students passed the microphone and voiced their concerns to faculty, staff, students and the Grand Forks community. Citing the need to implement change on campus, the students stated they wanted those involved with racially insensitive actions to be held accountable, as part of a push for zero tolerance on the UND campus.

The mic was passed to students willing to share their stories about acts of discrimination on campus. One by one, several students took the stage and recounted individual incidents where they experienced racism on campus.

Asserting that a college campus is an institution of learning, the students overwhelmingly felt that ignorance and racism should not be allowed in such a place. As this idea was shared with the crowd, the chant “zero tolerance policy” began to resonate throughout.

Off to the side, students ran a long piece of clotheslines around three trees. Holding pieces of different colored paper — red, green, yellow, etc. — the students encouraged anyone who had ever witnessed acts of racial discrimination to write the incident down on the paper, so that it could be hung on the clothesline afterward.

The clothesline was meant to bring attention to the racial discrimination multicultural students deal with everyday. As the vast majority of these incidents go unreported, the clothesline served as a way for the students to share their experience.

Defining “discrimination”

Among the students in attendance was Jasmine White, a general studies major at UND, who says that a zero tolerance stance for discrimination at UND would ensure “ if racial things happen on this campus, that this campus doesn’t tolerate it.”

White is not alone. Standing next to her was the young woman who was directly affected by the Snapchat picture. The photo was posted on her cellphone, and it was her the students in the photo were referring to when they wrote the phrase, “Locked the black b**** out” under the photo.

Asking to remain anonymous, the young woman shared her experience with the Dakota Student, and what she hopes will be done about the incident.

“I’ve been through racial discrimination, and to keep watching the university…all they’re doing is talking about doing investigation over investigation and they’re not doing anything about it,” she said. “It’s making me uncomfortable because I feel like if something like this happened again, I’m not going to come forward with it and go to the university and tell them ‘oh this is happening’ if the first time it happened they didn’t do anything about it.”

Though the incident has prompted her to move out of her dorm room, among other hardships, she remains thankful the incident didn’t go unnoticed.

“I was very happy when my incident came out,” she said. “I saw a lot of other people coming out (speaking about incidents involving discrimination) and not have to feel like were going to be in the dark about everything.”

Also standing beside the young woman was her friend Olivia Akinpelu, a student at UND. Akinpelu states that the university needs to take action and ensure similar incidents don’t occur again.

“School is already challenging enough,” Akinpelu said. “Am I just here because you guys want my money or do you actually care about me as an individual and want me to succeed on your campus?”

The young women began to discuss discrimination, and how it seems as though everybody has a different definition for what is considered discriminatory. The young woman directly affected by the Snapchat photo shared her definition.

“If you come up and use a negative word about my race and I feel offended about what you said, that’s racial discrimination,” she said.

Embrace your neighbor

Courtney Souvannasacd, Administrative Secretary for the American Indian Student Services (AISS) was in attendance during the zero tolerance rally.

Taking the mic, Souvannasacd stood in front of the crowd, speaking to the students about instances where she was the victim of discrimination. Explaining that she understood how the students felt, she offered the AISS center as a safe haven for all students, not just Native Americans.

“I want you guys to feel at home here,” Souvannasacd said.

Stating that people everywhere, regardless of color, are a community, and that hating another person because of their race is ignorance that is taught, not a mindset one is born with, Souvannasacd encouraged everyone to turn to their closest neighbor and to hug them.

As Souvannasacd finished this statement, those in the crowd turned to the person next to them, bringing them into a full embrace. As the hugs parted, applause erupted from the crowd.

Administrative response

Following a meeting held between upper administration, to include President Mark Kennedy, and members of black student organizations on campus, a mass email was sent out to the student body.

The message, written by Peter Johnson, Interm Vice President for University and Public Affairs, stated, “The University of North Dakota Police Department has closed its investigation of a racially-charged photo posted on Snapchat” following the black student organization representatives urging to pass the investigation onto the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

The statement went on to say: “As an educational institution, UND supports freedom of expression and the exchange of different thoughts and ideas. At the same time, the University condemns comments and actions that are racist, bigoted, or threatening. The University of North Dakota is committed to thoroughly investigating complaints that may violate its policies. According to President Mark Kennedy, ‘We will not sweep these issues under the rug.’”

This statement was released following a Thursday, Sept. 29 campus-wide email that officially tasked Sandra Mitchell, Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, to convene a diversity council. The diversity council “will be charged with completing inventories of existing campus diversity and inclusion practices and programs on campus, identifying best practices to enhance the University’s understanding of diversity and inclusion in the higher educational setting, and prodiving President Kennedy with a list of recommendations to consider for the campus.”

Matt Eidson is the new editor for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]