The College Heights Herald reported today that a well-respected assistant dean of the University College, Michelle Jones, was targeted two weeks ago with vulgar letters telling her to take her “black ass back to Africa,” among other things.
Since then, officials in Academic Affairs, including Provost David Lee and Vice Provost for Policies and Personnel Richard Miller, have taken steps to address this despicable harassment. According to the Herald, however, after two weeks of investigation, there has been no official statement from the university administration. President Ransdell said in an interview, “Right now, this is a departmental matter and it is being dealt with in that way.”
This is not the first instance of racist harassment to occur on campus in the past few weeks. On August 31, WKU student Cheyenne Mitchell found the n-word etched into the side of her car. President Ransdell offered his support, and police are currently investigating.
To some, these incidents may seem like one-time, isolated events. But for students in marginalized communities who deal with daily racism — intentional or unintentional — every day, these are not isolated events. They are systemic in nature, and exacerbated by contemporary political rhetoric that fans the flames of hatred (one of the notes to Professor Jones told her to “take your black ass back to Africa so we can make America and this campus great again.”) Moments like these call for a bold confrontation, both in rhetoric and action, with what is evidently a cultural problem, and we urge the university administration to act accordingly.
Some of this is visible to us personally. The two of us have seen the de facto segregation that permeates many areas of university life. But there is much we don’t see. We didn’t see when friends of ours have walked down the street at night and received racial slurs from a passing car, or when friends of ours have been condescended to by a professor in an office meeting, or so many other moments we have learned about.
As the president of the WKU Student Government Association and the chair of the SGA MyCampusToo Task Force, we believe that student government has a responsibility to stand up on behalf of all students, including those who rightfully feel as though they are under attack. Changing the culture of this institution requires acknowledging that the problem runs deeper than the few instances that come to the surface. It requires sending a strong and forceful message that hate will not be tolerated, and that we — all of us — must do better.
The WKU Student Government Association is tasked with representing the best interests of students, but we must also rise to the occasion when any member of our university community is insulted for their being rather than their doing. To all members of the WKU community who ever feel targeted or attacked for simply existing, the WKU Student Government Association stands with you and will do all that we can to ensure a fairer, safer place for all of us.
Jay Todd Richey, WKU Student Body President
Michael Shelton, Chair of the SGA MyCampusToo Task Force