Bias Incident Raises Concerns: Public Safety investigates, asks students to come forward

By Alice Horner, Maegan Clearwood, and Lindsay Haislip

Elm Editors

A recent incident in a Western Shore dorm has raised questions and controversy about racial attitudes on campus.

Around 1 a.m. on Nov. 9, Public Safety received a report that a mutilated baby doll of brown skin color was found hanging on the doorknob of a Western Shore suite.

“When we first saw it, it was very unsettling,” said Senior Liz Shandor, a resident of the suite and resident assistant. “We were freaked out. We ended up staying up until 2:30 a.m. We’re all friends within this dorm, so it was creepy not knowing who did it.”

There is some speculation and confusion over how to define the incident. “This incident falls as an intimidation crime,” said Director of Public Safety Jerry Roderick. “It is most likely that there was a message, or threat associated with the placement of the doll. Some of the [victims] expressed concern and fear because of not knowing what the message was but feeling targeted. As they thought about it, they certainly became more concerned.”

“It was weird that someone would go through the trouble to do that,” said fellow resident and junior Julia Krout.

Students were sent e-mails about the incident the next day, providing them with support resources and information.

Roderick said that feedback from the campus community has been plentiful, but no leads so far. “We’ve interviewed probably about 25 people, and probably had about 15 anonymous tips come in. The majority of which were very supportive in providing information that allowed us to go out and track down people that had another doll, but those turned out to be related to Halloween costumes and characters, and not the actual doll that was used in the event,” said Roderick.

Junior Morgan Harris said she’s not concerned. “Although there’s always a possibility that I could be targeted, I’m not worried about it in the slightest.”

Roderick explained that a lack of details, especially motive, leaves room for concern. “As we go forward and nobody has taken responsibility for it, and we don’t know what the motive is, it’s certainly disturbing.  It’s disturbing to the community that an act like this would occur on campus.  We expect people to be more open-minded and more open to diversity.”

Washington College deals with bias related incidents from time to time.  This incident is seen as an incident of bias, as the college does not know the real reason for the placement of the doll.  According to The Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook, a bias crime is constituted as, “To unlawfully place another person in reasonabl¬¬e fear of bodily harm through the use of threatening words and/or conduct, but without displaying a weapon or subjecting the victim to actual physical attack.”

Director of Multicultural Affairs Darnell Parker said that depending on the motive, the incident could be seen as a hate crime. “To give a little historical background, it can be perceived as a hate crime, as a threat, for the simple reason that you put that on someone’s door and the historical context of that is people would hang things or place dolls or any other thing to threaten a minority group,” he said. “It could be taken that way but we’re not sure yet, we don’t have all the information.”

Parker recognizes that the incident, although unnerving, has raised awareness about diversity issues on campus.

“I think it was a wake-up call for campus to say we need to take ownership. We need to take ownership of our campus and be civil to each other and make sure these acts do not occur again on this campus,” he said. “It’s hard to take that one incident to paint the entire campus. That’s insensitive and I want to caution people from doing that. Just because a small group of people or a person created an act like this does not mean the campus condones it at all.”

The event has caused many students to re-evaluate racial attitudes on campus.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen racial tension, I know there were incidents before with sexuality. Part of me is thinking that it’s just a prank gone wrong. I can’t see it being any of my residents.  Another part of me thinks it was an off-campus thing; it’s really hard to tell,” said Shandor.

Many students have stepped forth with information about the occurrence. Despite these tips, however, the investigation is still open.

Public Safety also would like to emphasize the proper usage of their anonymous tip line. “Typically what we look for in an anonymous tip is more than just a name.  We want information that links a person or person of interest to the investigation,” said Roderick.

Roderick said, “Obviously we’re not putting this on the shelves just yet.  Somewhere out there, somebody knows something about this incident, and we’re really hoping that that information will come forward.”

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