Does UNR protect racists?
That’s the question gripping University of Nevada, Reno’s campus dialogue since a brave community member chose to speak out by hanging a banner this past week off of a building in the heart of campus. What may seem like an incendiary claim, is more compelling following a semester racked with racially divisive on and off-campus incidents. Yet, incident after incident, the University of Nevada, Reno claimed minimal responsibility, refused to acknowledge a systemic problem, and failed to implement any substantive cultural changes.
The question of UNR’s complicity stems from their complacency in response to the outcry of minority students that continues to grow.
UNR students feel unsafe and unheard when their justified complaints go unanswered. This school year, UNR saw swastikas painted on campus walls, allowed a white supremacist, Charlottesville protestor back to campus, and made headlines after a UNR PD member painted himself in blackface to mimic Colin Kaepernick. After all, I was told by Officer Adam Wilson,“I’m just going to shoot him if this goes sideways because fuck that” on September 24th when a car I was in was stopped by UNR police. The university claimed, “evidence does not support allegations of discrimination and hostile learning environment.”
As I look around the US I see campuses such as the University of Alabama taking swift action to stand for what is right for their students. University of Alabama decided that Harley Barber, who repeatedly said “Nigger” in several posts on her social media and other racist comments, showed that she was not fit to be a part of the culture that they wanted to have and dismissed her from the university. The University of Alabama, which is also a public institution, chose to stand and protect their students and uphold public institutional values rather than give a reason as to why they could not take action.
If swastikas being put up by students and threats by UNR Police Officers don’t constitute a hostile learning environment, I have to question UNR’s vision for their learning community.
Despite the university’s tepid response, campus dialogue around inclusion continues. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with President Johnson several times over the past few months and he has ideas, but not a vision for diversity at the University of Nevada, Reno. Through our conversations, he has proven his ability to listen to criticism and talk about change, but when are conversations going to turn into public actions? I have also met with Director of Police Operations at UNR Adam Garcia, but over time I have begun to question his desire to implement change in his department because time after time his department is the cause of so much discomfort and embarrassment to this institution. I have seen a desire from his assistant Director Todd Renwick who continuously inserts himself in conversations on campus and makes an effort to maintain inclusiveness to everyone with which he interacts. I have also had conversations with Patricia Richards, the Chief Diversity Officer, and I believe her heart is in the right place, but she lacks professional credibility as well as cultural and religious understanding of the students that she is serving. I believe it is time for her to step down and make way for a new Chief Diversity Officer to engage in real change.
Since my incident with campus police, I received a community outpouring of support and numerous students have approached me with similar stories and fears. I have had several conversations with students which have impacted me. For one student, every day, she is scared to walk this campus as an active woman of the Jewish community because of threats and the lack of the willingness for this campus to include other cultures. Another student I met while speaking to a class, expressed her fear of walking around on campus and in the community because she wears a Hijab. Minority students on UNRs campus feel unsafe, unprotected, and we are speaking out.
Though I worry some of these campus dialogues have become monologues, we, as a community, must continue working toward inclusion for all students. But make no mistake, students are frustrated by buzz words and empty promises. We are looking for definitive actions so that this campus can heal and become whole again. Until then, I at least, will be left wondering: Does UNR Protect Racists?