SPECIAL SERIES : CAMPUS RACE RELATIONS
Alleged Hate Crimes Create Outrage
Sparked by Fears of Racism, Students Speak Out .
October 14, 2003 1:54 AM
Many students have become outraged at what is now known as the "watermelon incident." Whether viewed as a prank gone wrong or an intentional hate crime, the incident in question has compelled many students to re-evaluate not only their safety but race relations on campus.
Three female students nicknamed the "triple threat" passed a watermelon left over from a picnic amongst their friends in Mary Park Hall, said Kenneth Monteiro, SF State Dean of Human Relations. After being autographed by the group, the decaying watermelon was put into the hall where it eventually ended up in front of Aminat Nicol's door. Nicol, a black student, viewed the watermelon as a symbolic racial attack and was deeply offended by its implications.
To many, this incident has become part of larger group of racially charged events that have transpired in an already tense environment. Before the "watermelon incident," two other black females living in the dorms received anonymous notes bearing racist remarks.
It should be mentioned that at this stage in the investigation, Monteiro said that there is no evidence linking the "triple threat" to any of these incidents.
After the incident was made public, the "triple threat" were verbally threatened by a group of students. As a result, school officials moved the girls to an undisclosed location for their safety.
Many students were dismayed upon hearing the news that the accused were removed from the dorms in order to provide protection from future threats or possible retaliation. They feel that the dorm administration has not taken full responsibility in the matter.
"I didn't like how the accused were moved from their rooms," said Tania Morales, a member of the Raza Student Organization. "Residency assistants should get fired for not being able to do anything about it."
News of the incident spread fast, even reaching students who spend little time on campus. Many, like Flor Perez were stunned by the incidents, as well as what he sees as a total lack of disciplinary action towards the accused.
"I'm utterly shocked by this incident, especially that it happened at SFSU," said Perez. "There should be an investigation by an independent committee to determine what really goes on inside in the dorms."
Other students feel the situation was not only mishandled by dorm administrators but by university officials as a whole.
"I'm pissed off that the university hasn't done anything directly to the perpetrators," said Sasha Benet, a political science major. "If the ethnic backgrounds were switched to where the African-American women were the aggressors, they probably would've been expelled from the university already."
In dealing with this type of reaction from students, Monterio suggested students make sure they have all the facts straight before telling the story. "We have two groups of people with two different experiences and one watermelon," he said. "You have to step back and look at this because both experiences are legitimate."
"The misinformation is natural, dangerous and emotionally painful because then they're (students) encouraged to act in inappropriate behavior," said Monteiro. "Misinformation can serve as an additional insult to the community because it's a hurtful thing."
The question then becomes how do groups of students from various backgrounds gain perspective and understanding about one another while living in close quarters such as the dorms.
For Sho'mane Ture, a member of the Black Student Union (BSU), understanding is hard to find in such an inexperienced environment. "There is a policy that students living in the dorms have to move out at the age of 20, so a lot of students who have experienced racism are already gone," he said. "There's a gap and a repression of communication of students of color."
At the time of publication, dorm administrators could not be reached for a response to the above charges by students. However, Monterio stressed that dorm administrators were handling the situation in the most responsive way, not only through counseling but also by looking at what "emotional or sensitivity issues" dorm residents may have. Monterio stressed that above all, "we [the school] want people to feel safe."
Rather than feeling threatened, some students have used these incidents as an opportunity to educate students about diversity at SF State.
"We at PACE, would like to express our solidarity with other campus organizations against these racist acts,"said Valerie Francisco, the Pilipino American Collegiate Endeavor Head Coordinator. "With SF State having been a progressive campus for so long, my sentiment and feelings toward student organizers and people who are working toward social justice on campus has not changed."
Ture encourages students of color to come together to create and maintain safety at SF State.
"We need more unity among people of color. If we seclude ourselves we're mentally shutting ourselves down from surviving this campus," he said. "We need to be aware of each other's cultures."
However, some students find it hard to share in Ture's hope for understanding of the rich diversity that exists on campus. One such student is Ramon Acevedo, who is not that surprised that incidents of racism occur because he feels nobody really cares.
"This just shows how unaware we really are and that we still have a long way to go," said Acevedo. "We live in a society where racism is prevalent so this doesn't surprise me."
"Does anybody really care? Or is this going to be another thing that happened?" asked Acevedo.
It looks as if Acevedo will have to wait for his answer until the investigation has concluded. At this time no actions have been taken until school officials can determine whether or not a hate crime has been committed.
"Good, bad, or indifferent, hate as an emotion is not illegal or against policy," said Monteiro. "This may sound obvious to some or surprising to others, but many people talk as if they believe people can be arrested for hating, or saying 'I hate you'. The specific question then is whether or not a crime has been committed."
Regardless of the outcome, this incident will continue to resonate with Ture. "It is traumatizing to experience such an attack," he said. "I not only see it as an attack on one person, but on me, my identity."
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