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Friday, November 28, 2014

UNM reacts to racist incident in Coronado Hall

news@dailylobo.com

Various African-American student groups at UNM are working on a resolution in response to a racist incident last week in one of the residence halls.

On March 1, black student Dominic Calhoun received a racist note on the door to his room in Coronado Hall. The note, which was drawn on his roommate’s dry-erase board, depicted an image of a stick figure man drawn in black ink with a noose leading from the figure’s neck to the word “N****r.”

Calhoun, who is an exchange student from the University of California—Santa Cruz majoring in Africana studies, said he did not expect to be discriminated against in a supposedly liberal campus community.

“I couldn’t understand why anyone would commit such a heinous act, especially on a college campus,” he said. “Seeing the image made me disgusted by this city and campus. The fact that people think it is funny to draw offensive images is intolerable in all aspects.”

Calhoun said he had contacted UNMPD about the incident and that a police officer went to Coronado to ask other residents about the incident. But he said the police officer was unable to interview any student on the floor because the place was like a “ghost town.”

Calhoun said UNMPD is not taking the incident seriously.

“The fact that the police officer did not knock on anyone’s door is absurd,” he said. “How do you expect to gain any credible evidence if you do not assert your authority as a law enforcer?”

The Daily Lobo attempted to contact UNMPD twice on Thursday afternoon but received no response.

Don Trahan Jr., senior student program adviser at African-American Student Services, said AASS held an emergency meeting Wednesday night to address the issue. He said the incident is a safety concern for black students at UNM.

“It really shocked all of us,” he said. “That jeopardizes the safety of one of our students here on campus. We’re not sure if someone is purposely targeting African-Americans in the University.”

Trahan said AASS met on Monday and Wednesday nights with Residence Life, UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah and the students who live on Calhoun’s floor in Coronado. He said AASS, in cooperation with the Black Student Union, is working on a resolution to address the issue and whatever disciplinary action against the student who wrote the note will face. He said it is indefinite when AASS expects to finish.

Trahan said the note Calhoun received was the second racist incident that happened to an African-American student this school year.

“Approximately five or six months ago, (AASS was) temporarily located at Hokona Hall, and we had a similar incident in which the ‘N’ word had been drawn on a whiteboard in the space that we were temporarily utilizing,” he said. “There was not much follow-up regarding that event. That’s why it’s becoming a concern of ours.”

Black Student Union student officer Brandi Wells said the second incident is particularly alarming to African-American students at UNM.

“During the civil rights (movement), this act was done against African Americans and this was used as a threat,” she said. “Because this is the second incident that has occurred this school year, we’re not sure what is going on.”

Wells said the resolution will be sent to UNM faculty members and various other University bodies, such as the President’s Office, as soon as it’s finished.

Trahan said the University is being proactive regarding the issue.

“It’s a partnership,” he said. “We all want to make sure that something gets in place so this does not occur again, and have a concrete plan of action and disciplinary actions that follow this kind of behavior.”

In his weekly communiqué sent Wednesday, Abdallah addressed the racist incident and said he is “saddened and angered that any of us is made to feel unwelcome or unsafe. UNM is no place for such activities and the full resources of the University will be brought to bear on making certain that such incidents are completely eliminated.”

Student Affairs Associate Vice President Eliseo “Cheo” Torres also addressed the issue in a letter his office sent to the Daily Lobo.

In the letter, Torres said he already met with the Dean of Students to discuss possible disciplinary actions to the student who drew the note and that the student who wrote it could be expelled from UNM and referred to UNMPD.

Trahan said students should learn to embrace their differences and should not be afraid to bring up the issue of racism.

“It’s an elephant in the room,” he said. “A lot of people are uncomfortable to discuss it, and it does exist. I think we need to use moments like this as a teaching moment.”

Calhoun said that although the incident made him feel insecure about the campus, he said he will not let it affect him personally.

“This intolerable, heinous act may have caused me to stumble, but some of our greatest leaders have had trying obstacles,” he said. “This is only adding to the motivation needed to obtain my degree.”