SCSU debates response to racist graffitiby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Cloud State University is struggling with the issue of how to handle recent incidents of racist graffiti on campus. Since November, there have been at least 19 reports of swastikas showing up in public spaces at SCSU. On Monday, a panel of university officials and students discussed how best to deal with the graffiti.
St. Cloud, Minn. — When the first swastika showed up at St. Cloud State last November, carved in the wall of a cultural student center, university officials set a policy in place. Each incident would be investigated by campus security and the St. Cloud Police Department. Then a safety alert would be issued, complete with flyers posted on almost every door on campus.
"We are in ongoing conversations about the wisdom of that choice," said SCSU President Earl Potter.
Potter said of the nearly 20 incidents of racist graffiti on campus since November, some were more threatening than others.
"Some of the events are hateful acts meant to intimidate and hurt," said Potter. "And others frankly are immature expressions thumbing their nose, trying to pull the adminstration's chain, trying to demonstrate that people have the ability to say what they want to say and we can't do anything about it."
The question, Potter said, is whether or not the university should treat the several swastikas that were scrawled in bathroom stalls the same as the swastika that was drawn on a piece of paper and slid under a professor's door.
It's something students are thinking about too. At the panel discussion, one student stood up and asked if the response, and resulting media attention, actually encourages more graffiti.
"i'm wondering if it just fuels the people that are doing this when they do get the publicity they're getting," said the student.
That's something Terri Johnson, who heads up SCSU's Council of African American Students, has considered.
"I don't understand it, I don't think a lot of us do, it gives them more power though," said Johnson. "I think we need to stay positive though. There's a balance that we need to try to understand."
Johnson doesn't think the campus should ignore the swastikas. But she thinks the balance is paying less attention to them, and more attention to a healthy debate about racism in society.
With that in mind, SCSU President Earl Potter said the campus-wide alerts have done their job.
Last week, a student drew a swastika on a message board outside the residence hall room of a student of color. The perpetrator bragged about it, and was turned in by another student. That case is now being investigated by the St. Cloud city attorney and could result in charges.
"And that's the culture we're trying to create. As a community we won't accept this," said Potter. Potter wants more feedback from the university and the wider St. Cloud community on when and how the school should respond to racist graffiti.
One of the people who attended the panel discussion was Kevin Coleman, a maintenance worker at St. Cloud State University.
When the event ended, Coleman was sent across campus to the basement of a residence hall, to paint over a newly reported swastika.
He finds it on a pipe near an elevator door.
"Looks like someone took a knife or something and carved a swastika up in the pipe by the ceiling," said Coleman.
It's appears someone was trying to draw a swastika on the pipe, although the symbol is backwards.
Coleman is not surprised to find the swastika. He says in his six years at SCSU, he's seen five or six a year around campus. He's seen many more lately, but they're being dealt with differently.
"In the past we would just clean them off," said Coleman. "Now we're actually talking about it, bringing it up for discussion and how to really deal with it."
It's unclear if this latest bit of graffiti will be subject to a campus-wide alert, as others have been in the past. An SCSU Web site that tracks the racist graffiti on campus had yet to note the swastika late Monday afternoon.
- All Things Considered, 02/04/2008, 5:55 p.m.