Solidarity march, forum held in wake of recent aggressions
THE SANTA CLARA
October 20, 2016
After a swastika drawn in blood and slurs directed at the LGBTQ+ community were found in Casa Italiana Residence Hall on Oct. 8, members of the Santa Clara campus cried out for justice.
Over 70 students, staff, faculty and administrators marched through campus on Oct. 17 to protest the acts and express their solidarity with members of the community impacted by the vandalism.
Demonstrators wore rainbow armbands and chanted “We are one” and “Love not hate” as they held up colorful signs that read, “Love is the answer” and “Equal,” among other slogans.
One student proudly waved a huge rainbow flag while several students held a banner that read “Solidarity,” leading the group through campus.
“We want to be loud and we want to be proud and we want to showcase that regardless of the symbols of hate and undertone of racism and misogyny and bigotry that exists here on this campus,” said Isaac Nieblas, director of the Multicultural Center.
“We are not going to stand for it and we are going to start moving forward hand and hand,” he added.
The MCC planned the demonstration in conjunction with Santa Clara Community Action Program and other campus groups.
As an unexpected surprise, university President Fr. Michael Engh, S.J., marched in the demonstration alongside the other participants, wearing a rainbow armband to show solidarity.
“It is important that the administration demonstrate that all students are welcome here,” Fr. Engh said in an interview with The Santa Clara. “Any act of aggression that we saw in the two acts of vandalism really don’t have a place on this campus. It violates our sense of home.”
Forum Gets Heated
To address the vandalism, the university held a forum in Mayer Theatre on Oct. 18 for administrators to provide updates about the university’s response, allow people to vent their frustrations and ask questions.
Tensions flared at the forum as members of the university community demanded answers about whether or not the students would be allowed to stay on campus and if more details about the vandalism would be released.
Many people objected to the language the university used to describe the incidents. Several members of the university community also stated that the vandalism was indicative of a campus culture that tolerates racism and bigotry.
During the meeting, Assistant Dean for Student Life Lester Deanes said that one of the two students has unenrolled from the university, while the other student is still on campus and attending classes.
Vice Provost for Student life and Dean of Students Jeanne Rosenberger said that the university has involved SCPD in the investigation. Once the investigation concludes, the students will stand before a peer judicial board to determine the repercussions for their actions.
“Part of why we turned this over to the Santa Clara Police Department was to make a determination: was this a criminal act that was motivated by a bias,” said Dennis Jacobs, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “What we are looking for is the designation of a criminal act, which is in the police department’s hands now.”
Although the forum was primarily directed at addressing and responding to the incidents in Casa, Rosenberger also provided an update about the university’s investigation into the earlier vandalism of a memorial honoring 43 missing students from Mexico.
“We have identified a student who we believe is responsible and that judicial process is underway and has not been concluded,” Rosenberger said.
She added that the investigation into the vandalism of the memorial remains open, and that the university believes that more students are involved.
A major point of contention during the forum was the fact that the university has not referred to the incident in Casa as a hate crime, instead initially calling it a “bias incident” and then an “act of discrimination.”
“It worries me that we are using the term ‘discrimination’ to describe an incident that invoked genocide among specific people and groups,” said senior Nhada Ahmed. “I don’t think that’s discriminatory, I think that’s a threat, and I would like to see the severity of the incidents reflected in the way that we speak about them.”
Ahmed and several other students questioned why the university has not released the pictures and exact content of the vandalism directed at LGBTQ+ community to the campus community.
“(People) deserve to know what kind of space they are in and what their fellow students are thinking about them,” Ahmed said. “I know that can be triggering information for some people but I think that information should be available for people who want to know.”
Rosenberger said that the university will eventually make the pictures available but not until after SCPD concludes its investigation into the vandalism.
John Loretto, assistant director of Campus Safety, said that because there is an active police inquiry into the incident, putting out the pictures has the potential to hinder that investigation. He stressed that he and other members of the administration have been in constant contact with the police.
One student also asked the administrators about what types of activities would lead to immediate expulsion. Rosenberger said that every student has the right to due process for their cases related to code of conduct violations, and could not provide a specific example of a violation that would cause a student to be expelled.
“I am really horrified about what happened and I am more horrified that these students weren’t expelled on the spot. It’s really upsetting to know that they are still here and they will be here until they are expelled,” one student said. “This is an amazing school, why would you want a racist, anti-semitic or homophobic person on this campus?”
The administrators were also unable to answer whether or not the two students would be allowed back on campus and allowed to live in Casa. However, Rosenberger said that expulsion is not off the table.
“The range of sanctions runs everywhere from a warning all the way up to expulsion,” Rosenberger said. “It’s possible that this investigation could result in suspension or expulsion.”
The university community has begun to mobilize to demand direct action in response to the incidents. Sonja Mackenzie, an assistant professor in the Public Health Program, released a statement on Oct. 17 in response to the incidents.
About 25 LGBTQ+ students, staff and faculty helped contribute to the statement, according to Mackenzie. The statement condemns the acts as hate crimes and stresses the need to ensure that the Santa Clara campus remains a safe and welcoming place for all groups.
“We understand these acts as hate crimes, intended to intimidate and instill fear. We opposed vague and inaccurate language of ‘discrimination’ when these acts of vandalism were clearly targeted against the LGBTQ+ and Jewish communities,” the statement reads.
The document contains four core demands, including that the acts be called hate crimes rather than acts of discrimination and that a full description of the vandalism be released to the Santa Clara community.
The statement also demands that the university increase the security of campus surveillance footage to prevent images of hate crimes from circulating around the university and “re-traumatizing” affected communities.
The joint statement also calls for using a “transformative justice” approach in order to hold the perpetrators accountable. This would allow those affected to address the perpetrators directly.
“We need to figure out how to learn from this experience,” Mackenzie said. “We are calling for a transformative justice approach that demands accountability for the perpetrators but does not do what traditional punitive measures do, which is to just send people away and we think they are going to learn from that.”
Contact Sophie Mattson at smattson@ scu.edu or call (408) 554-4849.