Minority students at Franklin & Marshall College are outraged after photos of four students wearing “racist” costumes circulated on social media this past weekend.
The costumes, which the college called “culturally insensitive and racist” in an email to students this week, appropriated from Asian, Hispanic and African cultures.
“I can’t say that I was surprised because this happens almost every year at F&M,” said Ruth Woldu, a senior and co-president of the college’s African and Caribbean Association. “… But I was furious.”
The incident comes a month after a racial slur targeting Asians was scrawled on a dorm room door. A campaign poster was also defaced earlier this year. And last year a poster with demeaning language about Asian culture was put on the college’s “protest tree.”
In an email to students, college Dean Margaret Hazlett, Provost Cam Wesson and President Barbara Altmann demanded students to “be better.”
“There is no place at F&M for racist actions and cultural appropriation. We must be better than this,” the email states. “Each of us has to step outside our comfort zone and engage with people who are different than ourselves.”
The email also stated three college initiatives in the works: a campus climate survey that closes Nov. 15; hiring a director of diversity, equity and inclusion in the coming months; and creating a bias response reporting system that will go live in the spring 2020 semester.
Students in the photos met with student affairs and members of the office of multicultural programs as part of the college’s adjudication process.
“The offending students have expressed remorse for their actions and are in the process of identifying opportunities to teach others from their mistakes so there is broader cultural understanding and sensitivity,” the email states.
‘I do not feel safe on campus’
Student leaders told LNP that they aren’t satisfied with the college’s efforts. What’s more, they’re starting to feel unsafe on campus.
“I can honestly say I do not feel safe on campus,” Woldu said, adding that minority students feel like “there’s no safe space for them at all.”
Members of various cultural groups held a campuswide meeting this week to discuss next steps, such as developing a list of demands for college administrators. The meeting’s theme: “My culture is not a costume.”
“It was a lot of students voicing their concerns, their feelings and coming up with solutions,” Taina Perez, a senior and co-president of Mi Gente Latina on campus.
Student demands include increased funding and a new space for multicultural clubs, more diversity in the counseling department, and a strict policy that outlines ramifications for racially insensitive behavior.
“I just think they need to finally act on their words,” Perez said of the college.