Several hundred members of the University community gather on The Green for a candid dialogue in the wake of racial concerns.

Campus gathering

University comes together for candid dialogue in wake of racial concerns


8:32 p.m., Sept. 23, 2015--Several hundred members of the University of Delaware campus community gathered late Wednesday afternoon on The Green for candid dialogue in the wake of racial concerns.

The event followed a peaceful protest Monday night when conservative commentator Katie Pavlich spoke at Mitchell Hall and a report Tuesday night of what at first were believed to be nooses – later found to be the remnants of paper lanterns – hanging from a tree near the building.

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Both the Tuesday incident and derogatory comments about it that soon appeared on social media were decried by both the administration and black students on campus.

UD senior Lalu Ologbauma opened the discussion, saying he was humbled by the number of people who had turned out, and adding that the last several days had been filled with emotion – pride in the peaceful manner in which students had come together to protest the speaker followed by fear and anger with the report of the noose.

The University, he said, has not solved its diversity problem but instead has uncovered a larger issue of racial tension.

Later in the event, many students – black, white and multiracial -- came forward to second that, speaking of taunts and racial slurs and pointing out that “words can hurt.” They spoke of painful experiences they encountered in classrooms, residence halls and the streets of Newark. 

UD Acting President Nancy M. Targett thanked those who turned out, saying their presence “is a testament to your passion for and to your love of this University. You’re here because you care.”

Targett said that she had spent much of the night and day speaking to students of all colors and backgrounds and, while relieved the University Police had found no hate crime, she “was also deeply disturbed to see how this incident exposed feelings of pain and fear among our students.”

“Some told me of instances when they felt like outcasts on their own campus, like their opinions and views — their lives — didn’t matter,” Targett said. “Hearing that broke my heart. In their words, I did not recognize the University I’ve known and loved for more than 30 years. I thought we were doing pretty well — not perfect, and not all the time — but OK. Clearly, though, if some of our students feel this way — if this is their UD experience — then we’re not doing enough. We have more work ahead of us.”

If there was a simple answer to the problem, it would have been solved long ago, Targett said. “I don’t have the solution. You don’t have the solution. But together, as a community we can find the solution.”

Targett said the campus must continue “talking about equality and inclusion,” and that as individuals “we have to keep talking to each other – and even more importantly, we have to keep listening to one another.”

While this is hard work, Targett said it is work to which she is committed and that the day’s event “have strengthened my resolve. I’m going to work every day to make this a place that you love as much as I do. I’m asking for your help. Together, we’ll make sure the University is safe for everyone and welcoming to all. Together, we’ll send a clear message that the University of Delaware is no place for bigotry or prejudice. And together, we’ll build a University of Delaware that every day for every person lives up to our highest ideals.”

Rick Deadwyler, director of government relations for the University and a 1993 alumnus, said the students have seen the administration come to them, to hear their challenges and their pain, and now have a responsibility of their own “to say something meaningful.”

In crisis there is opportunity, he said. “We need to hear from you, and the president is listening.”

Carol Henderson, vice provost for diversity, said it “cuts to my soul that we have this kind of pain on our campus,” adding it is important for the community to say, “Not on our campus. We are bigger than hate.”

Senior Ayanna Gill closed the presentation, saying, “The conversation starts now."

Photos by Evan Krape

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