Racial Bias Accusations Surface at Dickinson

Jules Struck ’17, News Editor

As the country grapples with racial tensions from the political theater to traffic stops, students at Dickinson College relate their experiences with racial bias on campus.

Two weeks ago, when Dickinson’s student senate elections were in full swing, Muhajir Lesure ’20 sparked controversies by publishing his dissent towards one candidate for first-year class president, Giuseppe Collia ’20.

Lesure, a black student, posted a statement on the Dickinson College Class of 2020 Facebook page, which according to him, accused Collia of using racial slurs and making racially derogatory jokes. “[My friends and I] were talking about how we got into Dickinson… and [Collia] jokingly said, ‘you got in through affirmative action…’ and that was unsettling for me,” said Lesure.

“Once I spoke to other people about it they all agreed that what was going on was wrong and that people need to be aware of what was happening,” Lesure continued, explaining his motivation for publishing the post on Facebook.

Lesure deleted the post within 48 hours, fearing his words would not foster constructive debate: “I deleted it not only to protect myself but to diminish any drama that there potentially would have been…”

His post received a response from Collia, who addressed the accusation of racial slurs and posted to the same group on Facebook, “I just want everyone to know that I do not use the n-word anymore. I feel that not being allowed to use a word based on race is discrimination itself. Formerly, I felt that everyone should be allowed to use the n-word. I now feel that no one should use the word and I have ceased to use the word.”

In response to The Dickinsonian’s request for an interview, Collia stated, “I fully support a 100% inclusive Dickinson community and have sought mediation with those involved in order to resolve the issue at hand.”

Other students weighed in on the debate. Dejvi Ndreca ’19 posted a response to the “asinine” argument, saying, “Such behavior is not and should not be tolerated under any circumstances.”

Veronica Danko ’20, first-year class president, said “The recent events and disputes leading up to the election this past week, particularly on social media, have made it clear there are conversations that need to be had amongst the students, in a safe and productive setting… I think holding discussion forums on topics such as race, gender and socioeconomic status will only help to resolve any existing tensions or discrimination students may be facing, and allow those students to have their voices heard in an effective and constructive environment.”

However, as one student, Teryon Lowery ’19 put it, “I think that [this instance] is a small piece to one bigger article.”

Last year, eleven of fourteen bias incidence reports filed to the Bias Education & Response Team pertained to racial bias, according to Vincent Stephens, director of the Popel Shaw Center for Race & Ethnicity.

“Each incident was handled on a case by case basis and involved direct in-person conversations between myself, [Vice President and Dean of Student Life] Joyce Bylander, and/or [Vice President for Institutional Initiatives] Mike Reed and the filers about their concerns and their desired method of resolution,” said Stephens.

One black student, Quadrese Glass ’19, met with Dean Bylander to discuss an incident that took place on Sept. 7. At approximately 1 a.m., Glass and a friend were walking on Morgan Field, as “two white Dickinson students were walking in the opposite direction. And they referred to me with derogatory terms… they said ‘n**** boy, step to the side,’” said Glass.

“This was the first time I had ever been accosted in that way, first time I had been addressed like that,” said Glass, “So I really did not know how to take it. It didn’t immediately register.”

“It just hit me hard that those people still exist,” continued Glass, “These are the types of things that you read or that you see on tv… that never happen to you, and then they do happen to you, and it’s like, wow… ”

“There are definitely characters in Carlisle and on campus that are somewhat problematic,” says Meridian Kenol ’19, a female student of color who reported that as she was walking across campus one day, a white male in a car hung out the window and yelled “white power” at her.  In another incident, Kenol reports that a white male in a vehicle with a Confederate flag slowed down his car while passing her on the road at night by Kaufman.

Jonah Krall ’17, student senator and president of multicultural fraternity Sigma Lambda Beta, is a white student originally from Philadelphia, where he “never see[s] Confederate flags.” Krall “imagine[s] that it must be hard to see around so often.”

Lowery says that his experiences with racial bias has been both “Subtle and non-subtle. Subtly, you know, like people calling me names of other black students, or… someone lost an ID card and saying like ‘oh, you probably know this person,’ [who is black]. There have been times when I have been walking, and I have been called the n-word. I’ve been called boy, even while doing community service projects in Carlisle, I’ve been called boy while serving people.”

However, says Lowery, “If you’re going to talk about dialogues, you have to talk about more than just the black experience at Dickinson. What about the LGBTQ+ experience at Dickinson?”

“There are going to be black students who say, ‘that’s not my experience,’” he continues. “Like when we had the Why We Wear Black protest at Thanksgiving, there were a number of students who came up and said, ‘that’s not my experience here at Dickinson.”

“If you really want to grow, I think Dickinson offers courses that you can sit through that will tell you about all this stuff: what it means to be black in America, what it means to be black in the world,” says Lesure. “It takes more than just one conversation.”

Lesure found help from Dickinson’s administration lacking: “I don’t think that Landis dealt with the situation how I wanted them too,” said Lesure. “I expected nothing less, being out of a PWI [Predominantly White Institution] and I’m still very upset because…at the end of the day situations like this are going to continue to happen and no one is going to do anything about it.”

Glass, who says “Sometimes it seems as if there is little or no repercussions to be had… as if there is a layer of protection for these individuals,” still found administrative staff receptive to his complaints.

Glass is starting an initiative named the You Wanna Say campaign with the credo that “individuals do have the right to say whatever they want, but we as a community have the right to check those people on what they say.” He says that “Bylander told me that the campaign was a beautiful response because the conversation about race and the use of language has died down. Even now she’s asking me what I need from her.”

“I want to urge people not to become comfortable…because there’s still a lot of work to do…whether that aligns specifically with you, or you can be an ally to another organization or group,” says Glass. “Always look to stir the pot, to raise hell, to look and be ready for war, because there’s always something for you to do.”

“Our hope is always that students use their judgement since they are adults, but consult with BERT before situations escalate and cause distress,” says Stephens. Students who wish to report incidences of racial bias to the Bias Education and Response Team can do so at this link: https://publicdocs.maxient.com/reportingformphp?Dick