The following information was shared with Drake University students, faculty, and staff on Sept. 17, 2017.
Dear Colleagues and Students,
If we ever thought otherwise, we have been reminded recently that the reactionary forces of intolerance and bigotry remain all too present in American society. Just a little over a month ago at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, white nationalists chanted racist and anti-Semitic slogans, and one of them killed a young woman when he drove his car into a group of counter-protesters. Closer to home, the week before last we learned of a picture that was circulating on social media of five Iowa high school students standing in a field burning a cross while wearing white, pointed hoods and waving a Confederate flag. Unfortunately, this weekend we have been confronted with the same type of hatred and fear-mongering on our own campus as was seen in Charlottesville and Creston.
At some point during the weekend someone carved a swastika in the elevator in Olmsted Center. At some point last night someone wrote the most offensive of racial epithets on the whiteboard attached to the door of an African-American first year student. Both of these acts were done in a way that offered the offenders some sense of concealment and no one has come forward to take responsibility for either act. These facts attest to the cowardly nature of the conduct.
The swastika in the Olmsted elevator has been removed and the epithet has been erased from the student’s whiteboard. However, we can’t just remove and erase and move on. An offense has been committed against one of our students and against this community. A wound has been inflicted that requires care and attention. We have to say once again that we will not tolerate racism and bigotry, and we have to make sure that we live up to this declaration in all of our words and actions.
I have talked with the young woman who was the target of the racial epithet. She is understandably shocked and angry, but she is also determined not to allow the perpetrator of this heinous act to define her or her experience at Drake. This was also what I heard when I talked with the young woman’s mother. I am inspired by the strength, courage, and graciousness of our student and her mother, and it makes me even more committed to do what I can as their President to advance equity and inclusion at Drake.
Many conversations and meetings are occurring that address these events and the harm they have caused. Also, additional communications will be forthcoming about these incidents and our response to them. Please take some time to reflect on how you can be a more positive and active participant in making our community the powerfully welcoming and inclusive place that we aspire for it to be. Let’s all follow the example of our student and her mother in using these incidents as motivation to enhance and advance our commitment to equity and inclusion.
Finally, it is likely that a number of individuals reading this message have information that could help us discover the identity of those who committed these acts. I encourage anyone who has such information to share it with a residential life or student life professional, or some other university colleague who will ensure that the information gets to the right place. Being a member of the Drake community means that we don’t stand-by passively when we could step-in and make a difference.