Student confronted with racial epithets, UIndy responds to incident

by Kiara Conley | Online Editor
Published: Last Updated on

A student was confronted with racist language by a group of other students, according to an email sent on Nov. 15 by University of Indianapolis President Robert Manuel. In the email, Manuel said the incident created an unsafe and threatening environment on campus, and these behaviors were in direct violation of the UIndy Student Code of Conduct. The incident is being investigated by the professional staff in the Office of Student Affairs, and anyone found violating the code of conduct will be charged through the formal disciplinary process, according to Manuel’s email. 

Vice President and Chief Inclusion and Equity Officer Amber Smith said that to the university’s knowledge, a young woman was entering Warren Hall and racial epithets were yelled at her, and that is what is known of the incident so far. As of The Reflector press time, the investigation is still ongoing. 

Smith said that several different responses are being worked on that rely on the university’s ability to mitigate these occurrences in the future. She said that the focus is to ensure campus community safety and gather information on the incident. Manuel said that the university will make sure that the incident is investigated and managed.

“And if we find out who did this, my goal would be to have expulsion be the end result of that,” Manuel said. “It’s not a place where we want to entertain [that] as a possible action of our students because that’s not the environment we want to have on campus.” 

Smith and Manuel said they have been having conversations with student groups. Smith said this is to gain insight into the culture to see what is happening that they are not seeing. There was a meeting with students in Warren Hall to become more knowledgeable of what was occurring, Smith said.

“So it’s important for us to understand what our students are experiencing every day on a day-to-day basis,” Smith said. “And so we’ve had, for example, last week [the week of Nov. 14], we had lunch with student leaders of color, Dr. Manuel and I went to [have] conversations with them to gain more of an understanding of what’s occurring.”

Smith said her role on campus is to positively impact culture and create a sense of belonging. To do that, she said, it is important to look at these incidents that occur, but also to create a culture where people know what to do when something happens. She said there are a series of things coming up, as well as things that have already been done.

“So as we’re dealing with these individual cases, we’re also working to understand what students are experiencing so we can create an environment where they’re safe, and we’re looking out for each other,” Smith said. “I want to be very clear with you that we don’t look at this as just one problem, that what you’re speaking about is something that reflects a need for students to be educated, for faculty and staff to be educated and aware and for us to come together to create a sense of belonging on our campus; that’s something we have to do together.”

Following the news of the incident, several students shared their thoughts and concerns about other racist incidents on campus on the UIndy App, some posts arguing about the definition of racism and others calling out students for making comments about race. Manuel did not specify if the university was aware of these posts. 

“ … the [UIndy] App is one place where voices can talk about the realities on campus. Amber [Smith], Kory Vitangeli [and] I are out there, listening and talking to students all the time [and hearing] lots of feedback,” Manuel said. “And we act on that feedback at every moment that we are here on campus. And so if you’re looking only at the app, you’re seeing momentary spikes of concern. But Amber [Smith], for example, and I are out there talking with people all the time and have a good sense of where the concerns are, where the questions are and where the opportunities are. And so while you may have seen a spike on the campus app, our ears are to the ground on a pretty regular basis to know where the concerns are.”

Manuel said that between Smith’s, Vice President for Student and Campus Affairs and Dean of Students Kory Vitangeli’s areas of work and his own connections, they all have been constantly talking with students to know where they need to address questions on anything that could potentially prevent campus from being a safe and opening community. He said that those issues will be addressed immediately.

“And that’s why it was Amber [Smith] and me and Kory [Vitangeli] that put that email out,” Manuel said, “because anything that begins to threaten the safety and the well-being of our community isn’t going to be tolerated.”

Manuel said that resources have and always will be available on campus. A bias incident form was attached to his email about the incident. The email said to “report incidents in which behaviors (verbal or non-verbal), by an individual or group, are perceived to be malicious or discriminatory toward another individual or group.” The web page for the form says that submissions will be sent to the Office of Inclusion and Equity email address and that all reports will be kept confidential to the greatest extent possible. Manuel’s email also provided a link to the Office of Inclusion and Equity homepage, which provides additional resources and information. 

“But the things that you’re going to look at are not because of this incident,” Manuel said. “They exist because we care about making an inclusive, open and culturally fluid environment. And Amber’s work, and our work, to make sure that that’s happening on campus is ongoing, and in perpetuity, [and] will be with us forever.” 

Smith said that it is important for the campus community to come together and stick together at all times and that everyone to look out for one another. 

“I would also like to add that there is hate speech, and there’s kind speech. And our goal is to increase kind speech, right? So let’s be actively finding ways to show kindness in our words and our actions,” Smith said. “And so you’re going to hear more from me later on as it relates to a campaign associated with random acts of kindness, kind words, kind deeds . . . we want to impact our culture or our campus in that way.”

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