The University of Maryland is often referred to as the state's flagship, meaning its most prominent university, but it is really more than that. It is not just some high-profile taxpayer-subsidized enterprise but a repository of the state's culture, its aspirations and heritage, representing in brick, mortar, stone and manicured greenspace the value Marylanders place on truth, knowledge and the free exchange of ideas.
It is nothing short of horrific that one of the most sacred times of the academic year, graduation weekend, would also be when a visiting student, Richard Collins III, 23, a Bowie State University senior in the ROTC program, was stabbed to death in the chest by a 22-year-old Maryland student from Severna Park under circumstances authorities are now investigating as a possible hate crime. A pall has been cast across the campus and the state — not just for the students, faculty, staff and residents of College Park but for all who live in Maryland.
Police and the FBI are continuing the investigate what appears to have been a wholly unprovoked early Saturday morning attack, but the possibility of a racial component seems quite real, not only because Mr. Collins is black and suspect Sean Christopher Urbanski is white but because the perpetrator has been linked to a racist Facebook group, "Alt-Reich Nation." Mr. Collins was waiting for a ride with friends at about 3 a.m. near the Montgomery Hall dormitory when he was approached by Mr. Urbanski — intoxicated and incoherent, witnesses told police — yelling at him to "step left, step left if you know what's best for you." After Mr. Collins said no, Mr. Urbanski allegedly attacked him with a pocket knife.
Officials at the school have, of course, condemned the murder, and Sunday graduation ceremonies included a moment of silence to remember the victim. But, sadly, this was not the first episode on campus to raise questions about race relations. Earlier this month, a noose was found in a fraternity house, and before that there were fliers urging students to support a "white nation," a racist email circulated on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and anti-immigrant chalk markings on sidewalks outside the Stamp Student Union.
University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh issued a statement Sunday announcing that he is not only making campus security a top priority but he wants to make it clear that the school stands against hate as well. "We must all do more to nurture a climate — on campus and beyond — where we stand against hate, we fight against hate crimes, and we reaffirm the values that define us as a university and as a democracy."
We join in that call, but we have to wonder whether it is adequate. We live in an era where the "alt-right" has been given new legitimacy, where hate crimes are on the rise not just in our corner of the country but elsewhere as well. The Trump administration's connection to the alt-right movement and its failure to effectively denounce these criminal actions, whether they are directed at blacks, Jews, members of the LGBT community, immigrants or others, has likely played no small role in their proliferation. Most recently, President Donald Trump appointed Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has ties to the extremist anti-government Patriot movement, to a high position in the Department of Homeland Security, a move denounced by the Southern Poverty Law Center and others.
Right now, one imagines the parents of incoming Maryland freshmen of the Class of 2021 wondering what they may have just gotten themselves into. And with the last of the seniors now removing their belongings from campus dorms and off-campus apartments and undergraduates long gone, there is little chance for the greater campus community to try to repair the breach — and firmly demonstrate their resolve to combat hate — at least for now.
Whatever is required to restore a sense of security, well-being and amity to the University of Maryland, it needs to be a top priority for President Loh and others not just today (there is still the matter of summer term, which begins in just one week) but in late August when the next academic year begins. Marylanders count on College Park to nurture the best and brightest of our young and to light the way forward, not to become a breeding ground of prejudice, discrimination and potentially violent hatred.