WMC students protest botched vandalism inquiry

October 18, 1992|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

Western Maryland College students held a "teach-in" to voice their frustrations about what they called a "lack of human rights" on the campus.

About 80 students, faculty members and administrators met on the square in front of Hoover Library Friday afternoon to discuss an incident last weekend in which several students were mistakenly accused of a hate crime, then vandalism.

"We need to show some concept of solidarity," said Emily Oland, a WMC senior who helped organize the gathering. "We are here to talk about some things we can do to make positive changes on this campus."

On Friday, anti-Columbus posters saying the explorer was "wanted" for genocide, racism, murder and other crimes against "indigenous Americans" were plastered all over campus.

Several people were investigated, and it was determined that none of them had anything to do with the posters.

On Friday, campus officials found that adhesive on the posters damaged the library walls and doors, so they considered displaying the posters vandalism.

Campus Safety officers investigated the incident as a hate crime, such as persecuting someone because of his or her race, religion or sexual preference.

Frank R. Lamas, the associate dean of students who oversees the Campus Safety organization, said he did not know why the incident was investigated as a hate crime.

"I don't know how it happened," said Mr. Lamas, who was out of town during the investigation. "It should not have been classified that way. It was vandalism."

"We apologized to the students involved," he said. "We realize we did something wrong. . . . We made a mistake."

Maura Ziolkowski, Ms. Oland's roommate, was mistakenly accused of a hate crime and met with Campus Safety officers because her name appeared as contact person on an unrelated poster asking students to go to New York to support an effort to get indigenous Americans a seat in the United Nations.

"Maybe they called us in because we used the same wording on our poster as the Columbus people did," Ms. Ziolkowski said. "But other than that, the officers did not say they had any other reason to call us in."

Jared Ebenrek, investigated because "someone said I probably had something to do with it," said he felt intimidated by officers to prove his innocence "or else."

"I told them I had nothing to do with it, but they forced me to fill out a four-page statement saying I was not responsible for the act," Mr. Ebenrek told the crowd at Friday's teach-in. "Even after the person who did it actually came forward, in my mind, it is basically, why did we have to go through all that when we had nothing to do with the situation?" Mr. Ebenrek said.

Someone also told Campus Safety that Edward Navarre had put up some of the posters on campus.

"I felt like I was judged guilty and to ensure my continued safety, I had to declare a written statement of innocence," Mr. Navarre said. "I was nervous, as one is prone to be when being intimidated by people in a position of authority."

PTC The group called for a wide statement about the incident from the administration, and a clarification of the regulation against hate crimes.

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