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State of race relations at UNH: Acts of hate condemned

Sunday News Correspondent

May 13. 2017 8:49PM
UNH President Mark Huddleston has promised to redouble the school's efforts to improve race relations on campus. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Sunday News Correspondent)

DURHAM — University of New Hampshire officials are condemning acts of hate on the Durham campus, following a week of racial tensions sparked by Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

On Friday, University President Mark Huddleston and Provost Nancy Targett issued a statement titled “Another Incident: This Must Stop.” It said hand drawn swastikas were found in a stairwell at Stoke Hall, the largest residence hall on campus. They were discovered earlier in the day.

“We condemn all acts and behavior of hate and bias,” the statement said. “We are investigating this incident and working to remove the offensive symbols from the walls.”

Huddleston and Targett asked anyone with information about the swastikas to call UNH police.

This wrapped up a week filled with racially-fueled incidents that led to Huddleston promise to redouble the university’s efforts to ensure positive race relations on campus.

It began when some students took exception after they saw their classmates wearing sombreros and ponchos during Cinco de Mayo festivities last weekend. A student named Danique Montique posted eight photos and two videos on Facebook May 6, saying she was “disgusted with students who chose to demean and appropriate Mexican culture.”

“I walked on campus miserable as if I didn’t belong. As a black woman, I was forced to become the very thing society deemed me to be; angry,” Montique wrote. “To my Mexican brothers and sisters, I am sorry. Sorry us Wildcats let y’all down. Sorry this institution failed to protect you. Please know that you are loved.”

Montique’s post spread quickly on social media, causing intense debate. A woman took a photo of an upperclassman wearing a clay mask, used Montique’s comment about being an angry black woman, and posted it on Instagram without consent. This sparked outrage as students interpreted the photo to depict blackface, and an overnight sit-in was held Wednesday.

Huddleston and Targett issued a statement Thursday, condemning the disrespectful language and behavior exhibited on campus around the Cinco de Mayo holiday. They invited students to a community conversation that night.

Thursday night’s event drew hundreds of people to the Memorial Union Building. Students demanded that administrators hire more diverse faculty members, provide faculty training and change the student conduct code so those found to be engaging in racist activities online and on campus can be expelled.

UNH spokesperson Erika Mantz issued the following statement Friday afternoon when asked what school officials specifically plan to do to ensure all students returning or coming to campus for the first time next academic year will feel included and safe:

“The safety, well-being and success of every student remains the top priority for the university. We listened carefully to the students last night and we look forward to working in partnership with students, faculty and staff to tackle these tough issues. This work will be ongoing and collaborative, and we will facilitate opportunities for education, awareness and action throughout the summer and coming year.”

Changing face of UNH

Over the years, UNH’s minority population has grown, and self-identified minority students now make up 9 percent of the undergraduate population, and 8 percent of the graduate student population. According to records collected on the Durham campus, in the fall of 2016, there were 423 Hispanic and Latino undergraduate students, 301 Asian undergraduate students, 165 black undergraduate students, 222 undergraduate students of two or more races, 21 Native American or Alaskan Native undergraduate students and one Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander undergraduate student. When all degree and non-degree undergraduate and graduate students are accounted for, there are approximately 1,350 self-identified minority students.

These records show the total number of enrolled students in all programs in Durham is 15,236.

Data from the fall of 1990 shows the total number of minority students was 217, while there were 13,062 people enrolled at the Durham campus. At the time, there were 64 Hispanic students, 93 Asian students, 39 black students and 21 Native American students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs.

Officials to step in

Durham town administrator Todd Selig said Friday that as a community, Durham residents strive to embrace diversity, and discrimination of any type is not tolerated. According to Durham Police Department records, no hate crimes have been reported to them this academic year.

Selig has been in touch with UNH Dean of Students Ted Kirkpatrick and Durham’s police chief to develop a working group to look into Cinco de Mayo celebrations, as well as the increasing phenomenon of day drinking by UNH students and their guests.

“Our focus since Cinco de Mayo has been on ensuring a smooth UNH commencement. Once commencement is behind us, we’ll have time to look into the significant effect of alcohol on the behavior of the UNH student body and their guests both on and off campus,” Selig said.

32 students and nonstudents were arrested during this year’s celebration.

UNH holds its graduation ceremony on Saturday.

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