By Mina Haq and Jessie Campisi
Senior staff writers
Senior Prableen Chowdhary said the University of Maryland’s diversity was a driving factor behind her decision to attend. Now, she’s questioning the administration’s “reactive approach” after the killing of a visiting black student Saturday.
Chowdhary, a biochemistry and physiology and neurobiology major who identifies as South Asian and as a member of the Sikh religion, said she realized Lt. Richard Collins III, a former Bowie State University student who was fatally stabbed near Montgomery Hall, could have been her.
“It really just hit home to think about something like that happening on a campus that I am at every day,” she said, “and a campus I thought was pretty diverse and somewhere that I’ve felt welcome, for the most part.”
Sean Urbanski, a white 22-year-old student at this university, was charged with first- and second-degree murder, as well as first-degree assault, in the stabbing. Urbanski is a member of the Facebook group “Alt-Reich: Nation,” which includes numerous racist posts, and University Police are working with the FBI to determine whether the incident was a hate crime.
For some minority students, the violent event is a culmination of multiple incidents that have occurred on the campus during the past year, followed by what some feel is an inadequate administrative response.
In April, a noose was found hanging in the kitchen of the Phi Kappa Tau chapter house on Fraternity Row, an incident university President Wallace Loh called “despicable” in a statement. There have been five reported incidents since December of white nationalist posters being found on the campus. University Police are investigating all these events as hate bias incidents.
Loh spoke at two news conferences following the killing, and sent out two emails to the university community outlining extra security on the campus and expressing his condolences.
“We must all do more to nurture a climate — on campus and beyond — where we stand against hate, we fight against hate crimes, and we reaffirm the values that define us a university and as a democracy,” Loh wrote in Sunday’s email.
Loh did not release a statement in December following reports of the posters, which directed readers to the website of white nationalist group American Vanguard, but this university issued a general response.
“As an institution of higher education, the University of Maryland is committed to the core values of diversity and inclusiveness and do not condone hateful language,” the statement read. “Even in difficult situations, however, we honor the right to freedom of speech.”
After more posters were found on the campus in March, Loh denounced them in a statement, saying, “We stand against all forms of ignorance and hate.”
There were 21 total reports to University Police of hate bias incidents or hate crimes in 2015 and 2016, more than double the total in 2013 and 2014, according to police reports. There have been five reported incidents so far in 2017.
Directly following Donald Trump’s presidential campaign announcement in June 2015, there was an uptick in hate crimes nationally, with anti-Muslim crimes increasing by 87.5 percent in the subsequent days, according to California State University-San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. During the 10 days after Trump’s election in November, the United States saw 867 bias-related incidents, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In May, ProtectUMD, a coalition of 25 student groups, organized a sit-in at the Main Administration Building and called on the university administration to take action in response to incidents threatening minority students on the campus.
The group called for an immediate response to hate speech from this university, diversity training for all SGA-recognized and Greek organizations and the creation of an external review board to investigate hate bias incidents that happen on the campus.
“President Loh has to take a stand,” Erica Fuentes, a university alumna and the former president of Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society, told The Diamondback at Collins’ vigil Monday night. “He has to acknowledge the role the university has played and the role the administration he has led in playing. Time and time again the university has been complacent in instances of hate and instances of racism.”
Senior Malcolm Wilson, who transferred to this university in spring 2016, said he hasn’t felt safe on the campus since seeing a racist email sent by a former member of this university’s Kappa Sigma fraternity chapter, which told members to avoid inviting black and Asian women to their rush parties.
Over the past year, Wilson said he has started to feel more unwelcome and unsafe.
“Somebody could get stabbed and killed simply off the color of their skin,” said the community health major, who identifies as African-American. “That could’ve been any one of my friends; that could’ve been me if I had been over there and in that man’s position.”
Following Collins’ death, members of the campus community took to Twitter with the hashtag #FearTheTurtle to share their experiences and fears regarding racism, discrimination and hate at this university.
In April, after former members of disbanded student group Terps for Trump chalked messages advocating for the deportation of DREAMers and the construction of a wall, Loh tweeted, “Students took to the sidewalk to exchange ideas and engage in debate today. Keep the conversation going.” Some students had washed away the pro-Trump messages and replaced them with counter-chalking.
Collins’ death and the numerous events preceding it have filled senior Chance Albury with “a sense of hopelessness.”
“There needs to be action,” said the kinesiology major, who identifies as African-American. “The black community and other minority communities are fed up. We always hear President Loh speaking on dialogue and everything’s a dialogue. These incidents that have happened aren’t dialogues.”
Junior Onyinye Okudoh, a public health science major, echoed Albury’s frustration, saying the university administration has not “taken the proper course of action” in dealing with incidents like this. Okudoh, a member of this university’s Black Student Union, said she feels isolated on the campus and in classroom settings.
“No matter how much President Loh likes to preach about inclusiveness and diversity,” Okudoh said, “there’s a clear divide between the minority students and the white students on this campus.”
Senior staff writers Natalie Schwartz, Rosie Kean, Julia Heimlich and Leah Brennan contributed to this report.