For the second time this semester, police are investigating racially motivated graffiti in the dorms.
On Feb. 5, a UNMPD officer was dispatched to Coronado Hall in reference to a report of criminal damage to property. According to the police report, “unknown offenders etched ‘fuck white people’ along with possible gang symbols resembling Sureños 13, as well as a marijuana plant, on two of the shower dividers.”
UNMPD Public Information Officer Lieutenant Tim Stump said Residence Life staff reported the incident to police. Despite efforts, officers were unable to find who was responsible.
“We had detectives go over there and canvass the rooms and the general area, try to talk to students to see if they knew who did it,” he said. “There were no leads. No one knows who did it or where it came from.”
According to the report, there were no witnesses to the incident, and the case is closed pending further leads.
On Jan. 31, Cinnamon Burton, a student resident of Laguna 2, reported a similar incident in which somebody wrote the word “n****r” on a whiteboard on the door of one of her suite-mates.
After a subsequent investigation, the Dean of Students Office determined that a white student wrote the racial slur.
Stump said that the lack of security cameras hampered finding the responsible party.
“We don’t know when it occurred,” he said. “You have cameras. You’d see people going into the showers in and out. There’s not going to be security cameras in the bathrooms that would show who was writing on the walls.”
Because of the gang signs in the graffiti, Stump said that it is also possible that an outsider was responsible.
“I don’t know if it was gang-related,” he said. “Was it a visitor? A lot of times, we find out that the visitors or people who don’t go to school here are the ones committing these crimes.”
But police will not treat the incident as a hate crime case, Stump said. He said that instead, the incident will be considered as criminal damage to property, which is a “low-class misdemeanor.” “It has to be directed to someone, not just people in general,” he said. “There has to be crime and it has to be directed in a racist, biased or sexually-oriented nature.”
Dean of Students Tomàs Aguirre said his office is not investigating the incident at the moment. He said Residence Life, which is conducting an investigation with UNMPD, should refer the case to his office before it picks it up.
Aguirre said the incident “is racist. It appears to be targeting a certain group.” And he is disappointed that this is the second time this kind of incident has happened this semester, he said.
“I think it’s unfortunate,” he said. “We’re just going to have to keep working to cultivate a more civil, inclusive campus. It hurts, whether once in a six-month period or once in a ten-year period, it’s the same. This is just not the place for it.”
Aguirre said that although there are no specific policies addressing racism, the suspect violated UNM’s Student Code of Conduct and will face sanctions if found.
The dean’s office has handled at least four other cases of racially motivated graffiti, Aguirre said.
If the person responsible for the graffiti were a student, he could face penalties ranging from a simple warning to expulsion. But Aguirre said his office aims to enforce “restorative justice,” which focuses more on educational aspects, to deal with suspects of similar incidents.
“Zero tolerance does not necessarily mean that every time we find a student responsible for incidents like this, we’re automatically going to expel them or suspend them,” he said. “You’ve got to look at the big picture.”
Aguirre said University departments should have more civility-oriented programs during new student orientations and in classes to address racism. He said the Civil Campus Council, an on-campus body initiated by UNM President Robert Frank in the fall semester, also seeks to prevent racist incidents on campus.
“We want to make that message very, very clear in a number of different ways,” Aguirre said. “Everybody needs to really clearly state that this is what we stand for. We need to really focus on the educational piece.”
Stump said that although the suspect will face minimal criminal charges if found, the incident was an unacceptable behavior in a university.
“It’s just conduct that you want to take care of,” he said. “If we knew who it was, we’d probably address it… That’s not accepted to put stuff like that on the walls. If you had people in there who had issues with somebody who wrote something like that, you don’t want them to be fearful of what’s going on.”
UNM will strive to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, Aguirre said.
“We’re constantly re-evaluating our policies and our procedures,” he said. “If at any given point in time, we determine that we can do our practices better, we are.”