On the morning of Sept. 12, Environmental Services Worker Ursula McNair went into the men’s restroom of the Hollister wing of Susan B. Anthony Hall’s third floor to clean.
There, she found a racial slur written on the mirror.
“‘What the f–k?’ That was basically my thought process,” McNair said, describing her reaction. “And who. Who the hell would write this?”
A bias-related incident CARE report was made, and the slur — the N word — was documented and removed that same day. But that didn’t stop the act of racist vandalism in the first-year hall from triggering further concern from residents, student organizations, and administration.
The day it was discovered, Resident Director Scott Sheehan held a mandatory floor-wide meeting.
“We spoke about ways to start to heal the community and those most affected by the incident,” Sheehan told the Campus Times.
The next day, Sept. 13, administrators sent out an email to the entire College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering describing and condemning the offense.
Dean of Students Matthew Burns, one of the email’s signatories, told CT that students shouldn’t view the incident as representative of most students, faculty, and staff at UR, who “are trying their best — imperfectly — to do their best.”
“But that is undermined and threatened every single time an individual like this wants to go out and do something that’s contrary to that,” Burns said.
Another signatory of the email was Jessica Guzman-Rea, director of the Burgett Intercultural Center (BIC), which responds to bias-related incident reports. The BIC is holding a restorative circle on the incident on Friday. Guzman-Rea also told CT that the BIC holds “workshops and trainings” on matters like bias, privilege, inclusion, and microaggressions.
SA Student Government also emailed a university-wide statement, signed by the SA President, Vice President, Speaker of the Senate, and Chief Justice.
“This word is a ethnic slur used to dehumanize black and brown people,” the statement said. “This is an affront to our campus community.”
In an SA Senate meeting on Monday, a motion to make a separate statement condemning the graffiti was voted down due to concerns about sensitivity, sincerity, representation, and effectiveness.
The identity of the vandal is unknown, but Public Safety is currently investigating the incident. (They advise anyone with relevant information to call them at 585-275-3333.)
UR’s Black Students’ Union released a statement on Monday thanking administration for the quick response, but calling for the culprit to be “at the very least suspended for a semester.”
“If it [goes] unpunished, people are going to think it’s okay to do, because there’s no consequence for it,” said sophomore Mauricio Coombs, Black Students’ Union’s Educational and Political Chair, who wrote the statement.
Burns would not say what punishment the vandal would receive if caught, but noted that there are “a set of policies that were violated in this case.”
“I don’t think anything should be taken off the table,” he added.
Another signatory of the administration university-wide email was Dean of the College Jeffrey Runner.
“ I am sorely disappointed that this occurred in a first year resident hall in which some of the newest members of our campus community reside,” he wrote in an email to CT.
Some third-floor Hollister residents were surprised with the incident, like first-year Alaina O’Regan.
“I can’t imagine how the people affected were feeling,” O’Regan said. “And I would never want to feel that way and it’s a shame that they do have to feel that way.”
Other residents described a sad familiarity.
“It was like I was back in high school again,” first-year Emma Hicks said.
“If I’m a person of color on a majority white campus,” first-year Justin Reid said.“There’s bound to be somebody with those views.”
“It’s not really shocking but it’s something that needs to be changed,” Reid added.
Correction (9/25/19): An earlier version of this article said that on Sept.13, administrators sent out a university-wide email. In fact, they sent out an email to everyone in the College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering.
Lumi Schildkraut contributed reporting.