UMass IT staff, police investigating racist messages

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2021 4:28:36 PM

AMHERST — Racist email messages delivered to Black student organizations on the University of Massachusetts campus, and a recent incident in which a driver yelled an epithet at Black students, are being investigated by campus police and information technology staff, according to a letter sent to the campus community Thursday.

“We condemn all acts of anti-Black racism and will work to diminish their intent to cause harm to Black students on campus,” states the letter sent by Nefertiti A. Walker, vice chancellor and chief diversity officer for UMass.

In her letter, Walker notes an increase in anti-Black and racist incidents that “run in stark contrast to who we strive to be, which is a campus where all students are welcomed and feel a strong sense of belonging.”

Walker goes on to describe the emails, at least one of which is signed by the “UMass coalition for a better society.”

“The content of these emails is vile, blatantly racist, and violently offensive. In addition, there have been other acts of anti-Black hate imposed on our community through the ‘Contact Us’ online forms of registered student organizations, as well as an incident involving the offender driving by and yelling an anti-Black racist epithet at a group of Black students,” Walker wrote.

“Since hearing of these incidents, we have begun a multi-unit collaborative investigation into the hateful acts,” Walker wrote. “We have also created opportunities to support the students directly impacted.”

Beyond the ongoing investigation, the university is taking other steps to address the incidents, according to Walker, including having administrators from multiple campus units following up and connecting students to campus resources and student affairs, and campus life administrators holding office hours dedicated to giving affected students space to gather for dialogue and support.

The incidents of racist acts come a little over a year after the Racial Justice Coalition at UMass issued a series of demands aimed at improving the campus culture and climate, in particular for Black, Indigenous and people of color, or BIPOC, students.

Those demands include measures such as emergency floor meetings and community forum guidelines following hate or bias incidents, defunding UMass police and reallocating money to new and existing public safety resources, establishing a racial justice hearing board, increasing funding for academic resources for BIPOC students and increasing recruitment and hiring of BIPOC students, staff and faculty, requiring all undergraduate students to take a social justice course, and requiring anti-racism training for all students, faculty and staff.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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