NAACP draws large crowd of UM students to anti-racism rally Gathering organized after racial epithets left on student's door

September 15, 1998|By Sheila Hotchkin and Melissa Corley | Sheila Hotchkin and Melissa Corley,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

COLLEGE PARK -- NAACP officials at the University of Maryland held a rally against racism yesterday in response to a racial slur left on a campus resident's door earlier this month.

During the first week of classes, a freshman living in Elkton Hall found racial epithets scrawled on the message boards hanging on her door.

Kyle F. Bosket, president of the school's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the episode was the 14th reported act of racial harassment this year. His organization planned the rally to make students and administrators aware of the trend.

"If we don't act now, there won't be African-Americans on this campus," Bosket said.

Campus spokeswoman Cassandra Robinson said 16 incidents of harassment have been reported this year. Incidents reported by the police can range from verbal harassment to vandalism and include discrimination due to race, religion, sexual orientation and disabilities, she said.

College Park is recognized as one of the nation's most diverse flagship university campuses. African-Americans represented 14.4 percent of undergraduates last year.

While the hourlong rally attracted hundreds of students, Bosket said he was disappointed to see only a handful of white faces in the audience.

"This is not representative of the campus," said Bosket, who had said before the rally that he hoped it would be a demonstration of the entire campus, not only the African-American community.

Bosket opened the rally by reading from a letter written by the victim and her roommate.

"When you leave this rally today, we want you to think about what you can do to help bring this campus together and decrease the racism that is undoubtedly facing us all each day in one way or another," the note read.

Several speakers attacked the campus administration for what they saw as a lack of action against hate crimes.

"It seemed to me that they had a whole lot of empty words and no solutions," said student Mazi Belcher.

Said Black Student Union President Danielle Gittens: "I want the administration to know we're not going to tolerate acts of racism, acts of cruelty and acts of unkindness."

Gladys Brown, the campus director of human relations, also addressed the audience. "I guess I'm part of the administration you've been talking about," she said.

Brown described the University System of Maryland's flagship campus as a model for diversity but cautioned students that even trendsetters have a ways to go.

Charles Christian, chairman of the President's Committee on Ethnic Minority Issues, assured the audience that fliers and posters will be distributed in coming weeks to remind the community that racial harassment is illegal. Campus President C. D. "Dan" Mote Jr. did not attend the rally, but has responded to the incident in an e-mail sent to all campus students and faculty members.

"We, of course, have campus policies that prohibit such acts, and we will make every effort to find the culprits," Mote's message read. "We will not allow members of our family to be driven away by such tactics."

Jamal Bryant, the NAACP's national youth director, encouraged students to doggedly pursue their education despite such setbacks.

"Do not let any devil in hell dissuade you," he said. "You have a right to be here."

The Student Government Association and Black Student Union are organizing a student committee to discuss this month's racial incident and other issues faced by students, Gittens said.

Pub Date: 9/15/98

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