AACC forges path after string of bias incidents

Cindy Huang
Contact Reporterchuang@capgaznews.com
AACC working to repair campus relationship after reports of swastikas and bias intimidation surface

On Monday, an Anne Arundel Community College employee noticed a swastika carved in a bathroom, according to a campus police report.

The graffiti is the latest in a string of such incidents on campus in the past few months, mirroring reports of white supremacist graffiti and racist harassment across the country.

Advocacy organizations, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and Council on American-Islamic Relations, have said President-elect Donald Trump's inflammatory rhetoric has been a root cause of hate speech in recent months. Since winning the election, Trump told his supporters who are harassing minorities to "stop it."

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors and fights hate groups, has been tracking bias-motivated harassment since Election Day. Its latest update on Monday showed almost 1,100 incidents reported to the group nationally, but such reports have slowed down significantly since election week. It also logged 13 false reports. The group tracked 30 incidents in Maryland.

AACC President Dawn Lindsay said the election elicited raw emotions from students, who were passionately divided.

Three days after the election, Lindsay sent an email reminding staff the college doesn't tolerant discrimination. The email was prompted by students who reported name-calling and bigotry on campus following Election Day.

In response to student concerns, school staff expanded counseling hours and organized meetings for students who wanted to talk about the election and harassment on campus.

"We're going to work hard to be an inclusive community," Lindsay said.

The Capital filed a public information request for information on bias incidents that yielded five campus police reports from October to December.

The week after the election, a Muslim student in a hijab said some people told her "go back to your country," according to police reports.

A student reported seeing "Heil Hitler" on a whiteboard in late November. AACC Vice President Melissa Beardmore reported racist, political and sexual remarks and symbols, including a swastika, drawn on a picnic table three days after Election Day.

About a week before Election Day, a school staff member saw a swastika carved in the bathroom along with the message "Hitler did nothing wrong," a popular internet phrase. A swastika was also found in a campus bathroom Monday.

Campus Police Chief Sean Kapfhammer said it's unlikely police will find those responsible because there's no video evidence.

He said the incidents are "isolated" and not an organized effort.

"You're going to have insensitive kids," he said.

In early December, staff and students organized a rally of about 50 people to express solidarity against bigotry.

Suzanne Spoor, an English professor who helped to organize the rally, facilitated conversations with students about the tensions on campus and during the election. She said the meeting yielded proposals, such as increasing bystander training and keeping track of harassment on campus, to ensure the campus is a safe place.

Spoor said she hasn't seen such a level of conflict on campus since she began teaching at the college in 1999. She couldn't recall another time when a swastika was found on campus.

Nicole Williams, another professor involved in the post-election meetings, said lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, as well as African-American students, have shared stories of other students intimidating them on campus.

As a result of the post-election discussion, a student group is forming to combat intolerance, Williams said.

"The most meaningful things have come out of chaos," she said.

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