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Racist vandalism spurs meetings at SOU

After the n-word was scrawled earlier this winter on the door of an African American resident assistant at Southern Oregon University’s Shasta Hall, school officials and students investigated but have not located the offender(s).

In the meantime, they are responding with “educational interventions” where values and feelings can be shared and healing can begin.

While the racist vandalism happened about two months ago, a Nazi-style swastika was recently drawn in the same hall, where 104 freshmen and sophomores live.

SOU President Linda Schott says the two acts are likely connected, but they aren’t sure “fatherland” was written by the same perpetrator(s). A term generally associated with Nazi Germany, it was found written on a whiteboard at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in Medford.

SOU’s Bias Response Team organized support for the resident assistant to help her through the incident while it conducted an investigation. Dorm residents on that floor were asked for clues, but no good leads came up, said Schott.

The Bias Response Team held an educational intervention Thursday evening, but university spokesman Joe Mosley said some students charged the school with “lack of transparency” for not informing everyone of the incident and not calling an all-campus meeting earlier, so the Bias Response Team canceled the gathering.

“There was a fair amount of anger directed at the person who did this and at the university, that it hasn’t been resolved,” said Mosley.

Schott said the university operates on a protocol in which all such events are not equal, but must be publicized according to seriousness and threat level.

“I need them to pay attention. They’re less likely to pay attention if (everything is publicized the same). It’s true we didn’t communicate. The team was determining what kind of communication was needed. Based on what we know now, this incident doesn’t rise to that level.”

At this point, she added, investigators don’t know if it was a hate crime or “someone ticked off because the RA told them their music was too loud. It’s the RA’s job to discipline students. These are younger students just learning to be away from home and be responsible, so it’s also an opportunity to learn.”

Schott, in an interview, stressed there is no known racist group on campus and no trend in that direction.

“Our campus is almost 30% students of color, and we are deeply committed to welcoming all students.”

At the upcoming intervention, Schott said they will talk about how we “approach conflicting issues, such as hate speech vs. freedom of speech, and, also, we just want to listen to the students.”

Because of the brouhaha over the protocol, Schott noted the policy has been there for a long time and she wants to go over it for possible changes. The issue also came up two years ago, during the time of Parkland school shooting, when someone wrote a threatening note on a blackboard in the Science Building.

“That message raised concerns, made people worried and anxious, and you have to determine what kind of communications are needed. So we put out a message that this happened, and there’s no imminent threat, but be careful. You have to determine when to raise alarm and when not to.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Jamie Lusch / Daily Tidings Southern Oregon University President Linda Schott talks about recent incidents of hate vandalism on campus.