UMN-Morris students unhappy with administrative response to racist incidents

A University of Minnesota Senate meeting on Monday discussed racist and hateful incidents this fall at the University of Minnesota-Morris.

Eliana Schreiber

After swastikas were drawn on walls and controversial fliers were distributed around campus at the University of Minnesota-Morris this semester, many students feel unsatisfied with the University’s response.

At a University Senate meeting Monday afternoon, Morris student Ben Yawakie expressed concerns about the way the University has dealt with the issues.

“[The statement from the University] didn’t address what type of culture we want to have here at Morris,” Yawakie said at the meeting.

Teddie Potter, a professor in the School of Nursing and member of the University Senate’s Equity, Access and Diversity Committee, said the University Bias Response and Referral Network should extend its network to include all University system campuses.

“There are really some nasty things going on… the challenge is, most of it tends to be students on students,” Potter said. “And so, it’s really getting the word out so people feel safe even reporting that it’s happening to them, when administration and faculty don’t even see it.”

Angela Gudahl, another Morris student, met with the coordinate campus’s chancellor, Michelle Behr, late last month to discuss the fliers distributed in October, which read “It’s OK to Be White,” as well as swastikas drawn on campus property in November.

When Gudahl brought up students transferring because of these incidents, Behr dismissed the idea and called those students “naïve.”

Morris administration released a campus-wide statement last month citing Board of Regents Guiding Principles for an inclusive environment to address the fliers and racist drawings.

“While our democracy should and does rightfully tolerate expression of differences of opinion, hate-filled speech and its symbols cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged,” the email statement said.

Melissa Vangsness, a Morris spokesperson, said the University was aware of the incidents and took down the posters and swastikas, which don’t meet University guidelines.

The email statement encouraged students affected by the incidents to use counseling services on campus.

“There’s just been a lot of dialogue, which is kind of the point of higher education,” Vangsness said.

Despite the email, Gudahl, a psychology and cultural anthropology sophomore, said she and other students are still frustrated by the University’s lack of support for the students affected by the incidents, who she said feel unsafe on campus.

“The biggest concern that the students had… from what I heard, was that it seemed like the inaction was something they didn’t want to tolerate anymore,” Yawakie said at the meeting Monday.

Social science sophomore Fawn Stone said she doesn’t necessarily feel unsafe on campus, but doesn’t feel comfortable either.

“I wish they would say that the type of behavior that is passing on this campus is not okay, that they would condemn hate and racism,” Stone said.

Gudahl said many students on campus were upset with the chancellor’s response because it didn’t specifically discourage racist behaviors.

During her meeting with the chancellor last week, Gudahl said Behr said she didn’t want to pick a side.

“[That] is another very concerning idea that there are sides when it comes to hate crimes, racism and students feeling safe on this campus,” Stone said. “I honestly do not believe there are sides to that.”

In response to the email statement from Morris administration, Gudahl and leaders of other student groups on campus are writing a letter with a list of demands for the University.

“A lot of us student [organization] leaders, we love it here,” Gudahl said. “But we are dealing with [a group] that has a history of not having power.” 

Gudahl and Stone both cited a history of racism at Morris, which historically had been a boarding school for American Indians.

Stone, who considered transferring, said she hopes the University will take a stance against the incidents so future occurrences are handled properly.

“We need you to say that you’re on our side,” Gudahl said.