Story by Caleb Diehl /// Photographs by Amy Rosenheim and Lacey Jacoby
"I’m hopeful that before the beginning of next semester, we have something that we can communicate to students that’s like if this happens, you do this. And when something happens, people know what’s going on.” — Tuajuanda Jordan, Dec. 10
Musa Ahmed ('14) weathered snow flurries under the Frank Manor House archway on Dec. 6 to watch months of organizing set in motion. Student demonstrators curled into a semicircle, breath fogging up the air, chanting “walk the talk.” One cardboard sign read: “Where U at Barry?”
Silence fell: no screams, no jeers, only jackets and cardboard flapping in the wind. President Glassner stepped to the edge of the throng. Snowflakes dusted the shoulders of his black overcoat and his black leather gloves. He wrung his hands. Unhindered by microphone or cue cards, he paced a frosted patch of cobblestone, inches from students’ feet. Cold stares greeted him amid the 27-degree chill.
“I believe in the words written on that sign,” he began, turning. “And that sign.”
“And this sign,” demonstrators yelled. “Yes,” he said. “That sign too.”
Glassner spoke of growing up as a Jew in a small town. “For me it’s personal,” he said. “Our house was attacked. I was attacked.” You can’t compare discrimination, he said, but “we all need to come together.”
We all had indeed come together. Ahmed huddled with the student organizers under the entryway. He has woven himself into the community as a resident advisor for three years in Copeland and Holmes Halls, a two-year participant in the race monologues and chair of the Ray Warren Symposium on Race and Ethnic Studies. A senior history major, he researched Vienna in the month before WW1 over the summer. He speaks as he writes—strong verbs and nouns, terse sentences. He was pleased that Glassner appeared so soon.
“The fact that Barry not only came out of his office, but that he gave a speech says a lot about him,” Ahmed said, “and about the steps he’s willing to take in leading the institution.”
On the grass to Ahmed’s right, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications Joe Becker, Dean Tuajuanda Jordan and Dean of Students Anna Gonzalez clustered with administrators. History Department Chair Elliot Young crouched among the students. He clutched a letter of solidarity.
Everyone had come together. Then again, everyone seemed so far apart.
No two people had the same facts. Young’s letter questioned why students didn’t receive more information about a slew of hate crimes. Other faculty learned of the news just three days earlier, when Jordan delivered a report at the monthly faculty meeting entitled “The good, the bad, and the ugly.” Confused by her vague language, Associate Professor of English Lyell Asher hunted for details.
Students were left wondering about the “acts of bias” alluded to in two emails from the deans, “An important message from the Deans” on Sept. 23 and “A message of concern” on Nov. 26. After their peers disclosed the details on Dec. 4 in a community meeting, they sacrificed print balance for posters. They stood in the cold for hours.
Ahmed read the emails, which mentioned “hate” and “racism” once each over 1,084 words, while he drafted demands for greater transparency. Bureaucracy and administrative rules, dressed-up words and public relations spin, had handcuffed administrators and shrouded the effects of raw hate.
“When it comes out of that tunnel it’s just really false,” Ahmed said. “And the students know that.”
At the start of the semester, Ahmed and his residents tacked their hall charter to a third-floor wall in Holmes Hall. The second-to-last community agreement reads: Don’t fear your neighbor (and don’t make them afraid…). Ahmed fingers a slinky as he numbers off six acts that violated that statement. His brow furrows. He speculates on whether the offenders knew the litany of race riots and lynchings their words had evoked. He wonders if someone acted out of hate or thought it was a joke, if the events are connected and how many perpetrators are out there.
In late Aug. 2013, a black resident wrote, “welcome back” on her whiteboard, and returned to find “welcome bLack Nigger”. Her first thought was to wipe the board and get on with her day. A friend held her back, and the act became the first hate crime reported to RAs last semester. “I wonder,” Ahmed said, “how many people erase the board.”
The victims in most reported cases are his friends, who are “very generous, very open-minded.”
In November someone walked to the front of the Bon, ripped down a $300 glossy banner advertising the Ray Warren Symposium on Race and Ethnic Studies and tore it apart. Smaller posters had been shredded, and some torched.
Later that night, Alicia Kirkland (‘16) walked with her girlfriend up a Copeland stairwell after delivering her race monologue. She had displayed oversized post-its for her residents to write inspiring phrases. On one paper she saw “nigger,” and on a second, “Jim Crowe [sic] for Life.”
Kirkland waited nine days for administrators to talk about the graffiti. She slept behind a locked door.
Later that month, a student in a residence hall awoke to chanting, and made out the words, “white power,” “white supremacy,” and something about “niggers.”
The deans released their second email as students boarded buses for Thanksgiving break. “It didn’t challenge the student body to engage with the topic,” Ahmed said. “How much of the stuff they’re saying they’re going to do is because we’re putting pressure on them?” If administrators cared, why didn’t they volunteer details? Why didn’t they arrange a community meeting?
Ahmed hoped students would encourage the administration by showing passion. “You want the administration to do well, because this is our school,” he said. With the Ray Warren posters in pieces, students met together. They began a series of talks with administrators. Still, racist acts persisted. Ahmed had come under personal attack before, but this semester hate speech beckoned from the most public places.
“I just have a hard time wrapping my head around that sort of harsh racism,” he said. “The memories those words evoke are very painful.” He pauses.
In December, he continues, a resident found, “Nigger,” on a community whiteboard in Alder. On a resident’s whiteboard in Manzanita an RA found, “the only use for a rope is to hang you with.”
In the six days after the sit-in, Asher was doing what he gets paid to do—writing. Called “Asher the grade slasher” by some, he now leveled a four-page open letter at Jordan, crammed with alliteration, book quotations and rhetorical questions. Administrators and faculty, he wrote, should keep “warm” with empathy for the victims’ pain. But they should also look at each case with the detached eye of an investigator, not let personal feelings intrude, stay “as cold as the peak of the Matterhorn.”
In August, Young attended the Fall Faculty Retreat. He heard Jordan mention “extreme insensitivity to others,” but “no one knew anything or was talking.” He assumed she meant an act of racism, but he needed details to be sure.
When the Sept. 23 email hit inboxes, Asher turned skeptical. He drafted a two-paragraph response to Jordan and Gonzalez, and cc’d the entire faculty. At that time, he knew nothing of the whiteboards, nothing of the shredded posters, nothing of the post-its. “Is there a reason why it might make sense to allude only vaguely to an incident or incidents of racial bias and intolerance?” he wrote. “If so, I hope it's being weighed against one of the effects of indirection, which is that we're all left to imagine the worst.”
He didn’t hear back. When “A message of concern” appeared just before Thanksgiving, he was shocked.
Communications stayed dark after that until Dec. 3, the eve of students’ community meeting. That day’s faculty meeting brought a surprise. Jordan traced eight disturbances in general terms, including a few that Ahmed hadn’t heard of. A coworker told a Hispanic woman who had been speaking out against discrimination that he knew what classes she taught and where she lived. A professor refused to call on students of color during class discussions. An African-American male student told an African-American female student, “The white people are going to kill all the black people.”
Asher said Jordan’s “bare bones” description of the chanting terrified professors. “We were picturing people in Ku Klux Klan hoods,” Young said. With plans for a sit-in moving forward, Asher sought more information.
“When someone in authority tells me there's been some ‘racist chanting’ on campus that has disturbed one of our students, it's every bit as alarming as being told by a trusted neighbor that smoke was seen coming out of an upstairs window in my house,” he said. “I want to find out if it's a fire.”
“It’s a community problem, a family problem” — Musa Ahmed
In a forum the day before, students of color laid down plans: Ahmed would write an Op-Ed for The Pioneer Log, a sit-in would reach the Manor House, someone should contact The Oregonian.
After that, Ahmed said, “it just kind of fell into place.” A movement collected under the banner “Walk the Talk.” Organizers took on their problem in the way college students know best, by sharing a Google document. The first draft of their demands sprouted additions and revisions. The soft-spoken Religious Studies major Ian Blair (‘15) questioned where could we flesh out this passage? What do you mean by that word? A Peer Counselor for the Queer Resource Center, Blair had experience shaping words in “legal” terms.
“If I have an idea, somebody adds something to it,” Ahmed said. “You can’t tell who put in what.”
Organizers demanded reforms to college policies on race and diversity. Publicity and Communications should present an image of a college striving to be inclusive and diverse. Showing a diverse crowd of students in photos on lclark.edu implies that the school has already achieved this goal, though it actually enrolls mostly white students. Last semester, 19 men and 24 women who identified as Black or African-American enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences. 500 white men and 786 white women enrolled. 65 percent of undergraduate students identify as white. That makes Ahmed question why he sees his snapshots from freshman year above news stories in The Source. In some years, one Black student appears in the photo for almost every story. Ahmed wonders if “maybe they’re just really involved.”
Next, the Hate and Bias Policy should clarify punishments for perpetrators, provide effective education and mandate a community response.
The college should emphasize transparency, and fair hiring and marketing practices. To feel less afraid and confused, students should know the wording, locations and intent of racist acts, organizers wrote, because “Hate speech is a community issue.”
Some demands stayed in general terms to appeal to more students. Ahmed wanted to connect with conservatives and other students who feel marginalized. Organizers invited groups like the Feminist Student Union to join in solidarity. On Facebook, the BSU invited the entire campus to a community meeting, hoping to hear new voices. “That’s what we’re looking for,” Ahmed said, “a very lively discussion.”
The meeting that Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 8:00 p.m. packed Gregg Pavilion for over two hours with a standing-room-only crowd. Organizers summarized the six acts reported to RAs. Kirkland showed slides of the graffiti on her posters. "These incidences are not isolated,” said Nima Mohamed (‘15). Speakers traced systemic issues with marketing, hiring practices and communication. LC lacks a director of Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement, because a candidate for the position wasn’t offered a sufficient salary. The counseling department lacks counselors of color.
“We are not making requests,” organizers said. “We are making demands.”
A stream of students passed the microphone. They brainstormed ways of mobilizing—drawing up posters, asking professors to discuss the hate speech in class, letter-writing campaigns. Emile Dultra (’16) typed their responses onto the big screen. Kirkland announced the sit-in would begin at 10:00 a.m. in Maggie’s. “I know it’s cold,” she said, “but this is important.”
The students had finally given Young firsthand details. That night, he emailed members of the Ethnic Studies Steering Committee. They drafted a letter to align faculty interests with those of students, trading emails about the wording. Young posted the letter on a Google site, with a link to students’ demands. While faculty didn’t know enough to evaluate every demand, he wrote, “we support the students' efforts to incite a conversation and push for action.” He offered to devote the Faculty Retreat next fall to a discussion of how faculty can create a welcoming atmosphere for all students and help them discuss issues of race and ethnicity in the classroom.
The next morning, Twitter erupted. #LCwalkthetalk featured declarations of solidarity from the FSU, Apocalips Poetry and Free Food at LC. Julia Withers (‘16) shared a template students could email professors to explain why they would miss class for the demonstration. The Oregonian's education reporter, Betsy Hammond, emailed questions to Kirkland, Mohamed and Dultra: “What were the incidents of racism that have folks upset?” Dultra described the written slurs and chanting in brief sentences. “If you'd like to know the specifics,” she wrote, “welcome to the club.” Oregon Live posted Hammond’s story that afternoon. The headline called the sit-in plans a reaction to the administration’s “tepid response” to hate crimes. Organizers studied their Google document late into the night, entering revisions to the demands.
“It was a beautiful thing,” Blair said. “To see a group of dedicated individuals sacrifice sleep and time when they could have been doing homework.”
After making inquiries, Asher found that about 20 students had clustered in a Holmes suite on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Some of them played a drinking game and listened to hip-hop, toasting and cajoling. An African-American and a white player exchanged what seemed to be an inside joke, a fist bump and the words “nigger” and “white power.” They did not shout. The next evening, a resident reported hearing the slurs.
On Nov. 27, the chanters learned they would come before the College Review Board. They had until 9 a.m. next Monday to compile witness lists and find a faculty or staff advisor. As the hearing convened on Dec. 3, Jordan prepared “The good, the bad and the ugly.”
The CRB hears violations of the Hate and Bias Policy. ASLC Chief Justice Will Aime (’14) chairs the board, made up of faculty, staff and students. They must decide that, “the conduct was intended to cause harm” and that it “cannot reasonably be considered an effort to address a topic of academic, literary, artistic, scientific, social, political, or religious significance.”
The chanting was the only act of racism that came before the CRB last fall. Because of the severity of the case, the board expanded to include a faculty member from the law school and another from the graduate school. “It was not like a normal hearing,” Aime said. “We had so many people.”
A member of ASLC with reliable knowledge of the hearing gave the following account. The seven board members listened to four witnesses for about half an hour each. They interviewed 17 students and found that 10 were not around for the chanting. The four suitemates in Holmes were found guilty of creating an unsafe space. Two of their guests were found guilty of making discriminatory remarks. All six were assigned to an educational program and put on unconditional probation for one year, meaning they face suspension for their next disciplinary violation. The CRB found the last student guilty of discriminatory remarks in another context. He was expelled.
Campus Safety also caught the student who graffitied the whiteboard in August. He either came before an administrative hearing or met with an area director. Head of Campus Safety Timothy O’Dywer said officers investigated three more hate and bias cases. They’ve caught no one else so far, and leads have run out.
Students did not discuss these happenings. They couldn’t have. To comply with FERPA and institutional policy, none of LC’s official communications detailed the CRB hearing or the number of students found guilty. Students and faculty have criticized the deans’ reports, the college’s hate and bias policy and PubCom policy for their vague phrasing.
“At Lewis & Clark, all will be treated with the respect, consideration, and generosity that define what it means to be a true community.” — Barry Glassner
While student organizers made clear that they don’t intend to weigh LC’s bias policy against its sexual misconduct policy in terms of importance or severity of the crimes, some comparison is in order. Side by side, the policies make a lopsided Venn diagram. The neat five-line paragraph on “hate and bias motivated incidents” lists personal characteristics that could serve as targets for discrimination, including “race, religious belief or practice, sex, sexual orientation.” It leaves room for debate on conduct that “may violate” the policy, and doesn’t specify punishments. Such conduct, it declares in a word, is “prohibited.”
The sexual misconduct policy spans pages 24 to 37 of the college policies document, and highlights phone numbers, tips for survivors and allies, definitions of sexual intercourse and consent, responsibilities, contact points and instructions for filing a misconduct report with either the Portland Police Bureau or the Office of Civil Rights.
When he writes the stories PubCom features on lclark.edu, Becker wants new website visitors to to “imagine themselves as part of Lewis & Clark.” That means showcasing people of different sexes, backgrounds, people downtown and on-campus, and students of many races. Consequently, “Any one photo,” Becker said, “might represent more or less diversity than actually exists percentage-wise in the demographics of our community.”
PubCom keeps most photos in its image library for five years, he added, so it’s not surprising that Ahmed might see his photos from three years ago.
Glassner wrote an open letter for The Source the day before the deans sent “a message of concern.” PubCom posted his message the next day. At LC, he promised, “All will be treated with the respect, consideration, and generosity that define what it means to be a true community.” For support, he linked to diversity resources—campus contacts, offices and the diversity events page. Glassner’s letter does not contain the words hate, bias or racism.
Director of Public Relations Lise Harwin emailed Hammond hours after her story went live. Harwin responded with six steps administrators are taking to meet student demands. The Deans Council and students selected by Jordan would revise the Hate and Bias policy and make it more explicit. The college would plan community forums, including a special meeting for faculty. Staff would get more training on diversity issues. The curricular planning process would focus on issues students raised in their demands. “And, of course,” she concluded, ”community members who violate our policies and values are held accountable.”
Those emails remained private while students prepared for the next morning’s demonstration.
Young listened to Glassner wrap up his speech, then wove his way to the Manor House entryway. He wished administrators had withheld public statements until they could reveal how racial epithets were written and with what intent. The students who surrounded him had done what the institution could not. In green slacks and blue blazer, he hoisted the megaphone and glanced at the steering committee letter, with its 94 signatures. “Vague statements against racism and for diversity,” he read to cheers, “are not enough.”
Some students left for class after hearing Glassner and Young. Others stayed well into the afternoon, pounding on bongo drums, blasting Beyonce, tapping out dance steps. On the traffic circle facing the manor house, a few girls smiled beneath the sign “FSU stands with students of color.” Walk the Talk had staged a peaceful protest and scattered by 4:00 p.m., but the discussion was far from over.
Walk the Talk organizers held a debriefing meeting on Sunday afternoon. Dultra decided J.R. Howard 122 looked too much like a lecture hall, so everyone circled around the top row. Leaders divided into subcommittees, each tasked with ensuring that the appropriate administrator or school office takes action toward a demand.
A special faculty meeting convened in Olin 204 two days later. Jordan fielded a barrage of questions from the bottom of the tiered, 70-seat lecture hall. “Incidents are confusing,” Asher said. “We are talking as if we know what happened but we don’t.”
Jordan told faculty committees are revising the Hate and Bias policy and assessing new disciplinary measures. “Each incident has had a response but we haven’t publicly talked about it,” she said. “That makes it appear worse.” She said administrators are working on better reporting.
“I’m hopeful that before the beginning of next semester, we have something that we can communicate to students that’s like if this happens, you do this,” Jordan said. “And when something happens, people know what’s going on.”
Other professors let loose over the two emails sent by the deans and Jordan’s report, “The good, the bad and the ugly.” Even after two Oregon Live articles, students and faculty didn’t know details. Where did the events take place? How many incidents were reported? Have the perpetrators been punished?
“I’m struck by the lack of communication and vagueness,” said Peter Drake, associate professor of computer science. “What are the constraints that limit the college from talking about these things. PR? Confidentiality? Legality? Federal funding?”
Yes, Jordan answered, “wanting always to appear in the best possible light” contributed to a lapse in communication. Kathleen Burckhardt (‘14), a spokesperson for the Subcommittee on Alternative Marketing Strategies, said PubCom should make more specific efforts to represent the reality of LC’s diversity. Becker would not answer questions emailed to him about how PubCom might revise its approach to marketing, though he responded to questions about current strategies.
PubCom published “The 13 biggest stories of 2013,” on Dec. 13, featuring a reflection on homecoming by Glassner, Mary Szybist’s National Book Award for Poetry and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ visit. Those stories, Becker said, “had the most traffic or were significant successes for Lewis & Clark.” The sit-in didn’t make it.
Ahmed wonders why the demonstration never appeared on lclark.edu. Both faculty and administrators supported student work by attending and forming committees to address the demands. Pubcom could have packaged the sit-in under any number of veneers—a warm-hearted gathering of students embracing their fellow community members, a triumph of the critical thinking that is the hallmark of the liberal arts pupil, a demonstration of support from alumni and the dean of students.
Raymond Fenton (’16) Micah Leinbach (‘14), Rita Ombaka and Green met with Glassner at 3:00 p.m. on Dec. 13 behind his closed office doors. Glassner reiterated that he takes the acts personally. He handed over responsibility for dealing with the demands (Walk the Talk has since revised the language to “requests”) to the deans. The students felt pressed for time with finals approaching, but no deans or committee members came to talk specifics. David Ellis, vice President, secretary and general counsel, explained that committees have come together to revise the bias policy. Professor of Law Janet Stevenson will chair the bias-policy committee, which includes Jordan, Gonzalez and Kirkland. Another committee on diversity and inclusion plans to address diversity issues in all three schools.
Asher restated Dec. 12 in his “a few thoughts,” how different the chanting scenario was from what Jordan told faculty on Dec. 3, and what students and faculty had pictured in a state of alarm. While still disturbing, the revised picture proved less troubling than a circle of white-hooded bigots reciting an incantation. In all the “warm” sympathy faculty and administrators showed for the victims, few had probed the causes of their suffering “with the heat all the way off” to establish basic facts.
“Hoping that you all stay warm,” he signed off, “and cold.”
Most students and professors knew little as of Dec. 6. As Asher wrote in his letter, some were leaning on rumors. While they shivered for six hours around Frank Manor House, they might have wished for just a little more cold.
Caleb Diehl is the managing editor of The Pioneer Log. His work has also appeared in The Park Record and on the Lewis & Clark School of Education and Counseling webpage.