Students rally against hate threat
November 6, 2009
Students, faculty and staff at UWRiver Falls spoke out about the threatening graffiti message found in the Chalmer Davee Library that targeted black and Asian students.
Students at the University found out about the threat through an e-mail message sent out by UWRF Chancellor Dean Van Galen on Oct. 27, who explained that the message claimed the threat was to take place on Nov. 2. Student Bhao Nhiang Thao, president of the Asian – American Student Association (AASA), heard about the threat through a phone call made to her by her AASA advisor on Oct. 26.
“All I was thinking was ‘OK, what’s going on?’ [My advisor] said there was an incident that was reported over the weekend and at first I thought this was just like any other graffiti, but then she told me that it was aimed towards blacks and Asians. She said that things need to be done around here,” Thao said. “I came back and met with some of the administrators, staff and chancellors and that’s when they told us all about it.”
Student Amanze Omega, peer advisor in Global Connections, said he heard about the incident before coming into work through an e-mail sent out by his boss.
“When I first read it I was very angry at the situation. I don’t like consistently being targeted just because of the color of my skin or my background,” he said. “I talked to a lot of my fellow Asian and African-American students and they were fearful of what might happen. Some were considering not being in town during the day.”
Student worker in the Davee Library, Pang Thao, was one of many students who was unsure of the events that may have taken place that day, and decided to stay home.
“At first I didn’t think much of it but as the week went on I started to think, ‘I don’t know if I should be in school that day,’” she said. “I stayed at home. I figured it might happen it might not. I made the decision based on my feelings. I thought if something does happen I don’t want to be there and regret it.”
However, Omega said he felt that it was important to go to his classes that day and spent most of his day on campus purposely.
“I felt like doing anything else was just turning a shoulder to the situation,” he said. “It’s like to me they said they wanted to get rid of this racial group and that racial group on this day, and by not going to class I feel like they accomplished their goal.”
On Monday, the day of the proposed threat, students were encouraged to wear red in order to show campus unity in support of the fact that hate is not tolerated at UWRF.
“I liked the red idea and I can appreciate what the campus and administration did to handle the situation,” Omega said. “It was good to see people from all racial groups come together to reiterate the message that hate will not be tolerated in River Falls.”
Library Director Valerie Malzacher expressed her feelings towards the situation, the red clothes and how the students reacted on that day.
“It’s sad to think about this happening in a place that you walk past every day. It’s sad that this happened in a library, a place where students are seeking so much good,” she said. “I felt so good about our student body. I walked around the library around 1:00 [p.m.] and it was busier than usual. Students were everywhere wearing their red. It was almost as if there was this collective stance being taken saying, ‘this is my place and I’m not going to let anyone take that away from me.’”
That same day, students, faculty members and community members congregated in front of the University Center while students expressed their feelings towards the threat.
“Now, more than ever, I couldn’t be more proud to be a student here at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls,” said Thao during her speech to the campus. “The support system here has really given me the strength to continue doing what I can for my fellow students in need…we love it here even more, and after all this, what’s not to love?”
The support of the students and faculty meant a lot to those who felt threatened or hurt by the threat, according to Thao, who addressed this matter in her speech as well.
“Your support surpasses all the anger and fear we have, and allows for us to look forward to tomorrow, knowing that we are safe here at River Falls, and that our collective good will triumph over the evil coward who wrote that graffiti,” she said.
As of Tuesday, there was no new information regarding the person who wrote the threatening graffiti. While Thao is proud of the University, she still had questions that will be left unanswered unless this person is caught.
“We all have experiences with different people of different races. There are a lot of stereotypes that go around and we live on those stereotypes. It’s the society we live in,” she said. “I guess I would just like to know, was this just a joke to you? Are you serious? What were you trying to do?”