On April 5, the Albion College community received an email from Campus Safety, stating that discriminatory harassment had occurred to a first-year student in Wesley Hall. An individual had placed a cardboard box with the letters “KKK” inscribed on it outside of an African-American student’s dorm room.
A few hours later, students reported on social media that an Asian Awareness Group t-shirt had been defaced . It was found inside the Umbrella House, a building which only certain students have access to. The Umbrella House is a building for all Umbrella groups to meet in to host events and hold caucuses. Umbrella groups are focused on spreading diversity on campus through the education and celebration of different backgrounds, cultures, sexual orientations/genders, and disabilities.
President Mauri Ditzler and Student Senate then sent out campus-wide emails stating that Albion College would not stand for these acts and that the campus is supposed to be a diverse, safe place for all students.
Following the emails, several Albion’s Asian Awareness Group (AAG), Black Student Alliance, the Umbrella House and Greek life e assembled a peaceful demonstration on April 11 on the Quad in response to the acts. Over 200 students, faculty and staff came to this demonstration to show their support for the students effected and the intolerance the Albion community has for these acts.
On April 15, Campus Safety sent out another campus-wide email stating that more racist and vulgar language had been written on Zachary Winston and his roommate’s door on Sunday, April 14. The student who had written on Winston’s board on Sunday was caught and is no longer on Albion’s campus, according to the email.
It’s unknown whether or not this student is the same individual who wrote on Winston’s whiteboard prior to Sunday, placed the cardboard box outside his door or defaced Asian Awareness Group’s t-shirts. The investigation regarding the “KKK” box and the t-shirt defacing are still ongoing.
Winston, Asian Awareness Group president San Pham and Umbrella president Isaac Verhelst each shared their insights on the past events and where the future may offer.
Zachary Winston, first-year, from Detroit, MI
Winston has a whiteboard with markers on his door in Wesley Hall. Other residents often write miscellaneous phrases on it.
Winston stated that it wasn’t until a week before Christmas break that an individual began writing racist slurs on his whiteboard. Winston and his roommate would erase it and hope it would stop. The racial slurs on the whiteboard stopped for a while but then made another appearance. Shortly after, the “KKK” box showed up outside Winston’s door.
After finding the box, Winston and his roommate (did not wish to have name shared) reported the incident to Campus Safety and then the Albion Police Department. Both are still involved in the current investigation.
Winston believes that Albion College as an institution handled the events well by informing faculty, staff and students on the incident. Certain student organizations, like the Black Student Alliance and Umbrella Club, said Winston, have been specifically helpful to him and his roommate while faculty, staff, and other students have been supportive. He also believes that the two student organizations have been brought closer together by this incident.
“I still feel the same about coming here to this college, so nothing has changed in that regard,” Winston said. “But, [it is] a little reality check, that these things do exist in the world, whether we like it or not. Honestly, this is a part of the progression, things are going to go south eventually, every now and then, but I do think it’s just a progression.”
Winston wants the Albion community to know this:
“This doesn’t define Albion College, people are bad in the world, but people are bad everywhere, so this doesn’t define Albion. What defines Albion is how we react to it and what do we do because of it.”
San Pham, sophomore, president of Asian Awareness Group, from Vietnam
After helping clean up International Student Union’s April 5 event, Belly Dancing Night, Pham went back to the Umbrella House, a meeting place for multicultural student organizations, to find an AAG t-shirt lying on the ground.
When she picked it up, she found it had been covered in fresh paint. The word “Asian” on the t-shirt had been whited-out.
At first, Pham thought it was a prank that someone had pulled on her or AAG, but then she found out about what happened to Winston in Wesley Hall and realized the painting of the shirt was most likely intentional and targeted towards the group. Pham reported the incident to Campus Safety. It is still an ongoing investigation.
Pham moved to the United States about three years ago, and she claims this is the first act of racism she has experienced targeted towards her and the Asian population. After finding the t-shirt, she said she felt lost and wasn’t sure what to do. Then, she felt angry that someone would deface the shirt and specifically target a minority group. However, she realized that being angry wouldn’t get her anywhere, she said.
“It’s a liberal arts college, and we’re supposed to be ‘promoting diversity,’” said Pham. “We have to do something to let people know and try to raise more awareness about how racism is a big issue on this campus.”
Pham spoke with Black Student Alliance, and they offered help to her and AAG. In response to the discriminatory acts, Pham and Umbrella groups are planning to host more events that are culturally inclusive to get more students involved and educated with a diverse population.
“For next semester, we’re going to try to bring more events that are more involved with people. It doesn’t have to be educational but to have fun with the Asian culture,” said Pham.
Isaac Verhelst, Umbrella president
Verhelst, a senior from Troy, Michigan, said that besides the peaceful demonstration on the Quad, there has also been a racial caucus held for students that want to discuss race issues on campus. There was a silent protest on April 17 and there will be a march in Victory Park on April 20.
“One thing we need to do is work as a community because the main issue that I’m seeing and others are seeing is that stuff like this happens every year, and I’m beyond the point of thinking this is an individual act. There is something systematic that we need to change,” said Verhelst.
For any Albion student that wants to join the discussion and help promote diversity on campus, there is an Umbrella meeting on Sunday, April 21 from 5-6 p.m. at the Umbrella House. Umbrella is the overarching student body representing Albion’s multicultural organizations.