Hate crime reported on campus: FSUPD investigates “racially biased” vandalism

FSU faculty, staff, and students gather outside the McCarthy Center on Monday, Feb. 4 to show support for students in light of the recent hate crime. (Corey McFeeley / THE GATEPOST)

A student reported “racially biased” graffiti to FSUPD after a Horace Mann women’s bathroom stall was vandalized on Feb. 1.

The crime occurred between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., according to FSUPD. 

Sgt. Martin Laughlin said FSUPD is investigating the vandalism as a hate crime. “We’re looking at this as a hate crime because it is going after a specific group.” 

According to Laughlin, the perpetrator(s) wrote “die black b***h” on the side of one of the stalls. 

He said, “There are cameras in the general Horace Mann hallways. So, our officers looked through that footage.”

Laughlin added, “We were able to identify [people] and obtain names. Now, just because they are on the camera does not mean that they are immediately guilty. … We are trying to do our due diligence to find people/persons who committed this act.” 

He said the dorms are a “student safe haven and we do want to give the students privacy, as it is their home away from home … but given the circumstances, we are making a valiant effort to let students know that we are out there.” 

FSUPD will “reach out” to the community if there are any updates that can be shared without “tarnishing the case,” Laughlin said. 

John Santoro, deputy chief of FSUPD, said in an email given to The Gatepost by Millie González, interim chief officer of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, that 14 female students were observed and identified entering and exiting the bathroom during the timeframe.

In the email, Santoro said eight of the residents have been interviewed regarding the graffiti as of press time. 

According to Santoro, extra foot patrols have been conducted in Horace Mann following the incident.

Abigaelle Daniel said she was on her way to take a shower the morning of Feb. 1 and discovered the graffiti. She sent a picture to her resident assistant (RA) and informed another RA in the building. 

She said the only person who checked in with her after reporting the hate crime to the police was her RA. “I feel like [FSU] can take more action to prevent these situations from happening.

“Racism is alive, and if we keep acting like it doesn’t exist, situations like this one that just occurred, and the ones last year, are going to keep happening,” she added. 

Daniel said all students must take the hate crimes seriously. “We need to stand up and take more action to fight against situations like this no matter the color of your skin or your race.” 

She said, “When there are events on campus that pertain to situations like this one, it shouldn’t always be the same people attending them. There needs to be new faces. We need to find a way to reach out and change the hearts and minds of those who say they don’t care about these situations or say it’s not that important.”

Daniel said she no longer feels safe on campus, but “I keep my faith in God and always pray for my safety, as well as everyone else’s.” 

Carlvens Daniel, Daniel’s older brother, posted a picture of the graffiti on Facebook. It has been shared on Facebook over 175 times. 

This vandalism follows a string of six hate crimes that occurred in the fall 2017 semester.

President F. Javier Cevallos said while University administrators and FSUPD officers cannot prevent students from vandalizing the dorms, he believes continued education of students, faculty, and staff will “eradicate” the mentality that “racist behavior” is acceptable. 

Cevallos said, “It seems like we are constantly going in a circle. As an institution, we are doing things and convening immediately in response. We continue to host educational events. … Education is the solution. … It’s hard to say what else we can do.

“Unfortunately, there is always an individual who, for whatever reason, believes it is OK to write such painful and nasty comments. It is a very unfortunate and sad situation,” he added. 

González said her division has been working on several initiatives to “combat racism” following the hate crimes in 2017.

She said her office is planning to host an open forum that will be led by student groups with administrators in attendance to listen to student concerns. 

On Feb. 1, González attended a floor meeting on the third floor of Horace Mann, where the vandalism occurred. She said, “It was a very emotional meeting.” 

González said, “We take feedback from students, faculty, and staff to heart when something like this happens. It really erodes trust in everyone on campus if their needs are not met, specifically regarding communication.” 

She said it has been “interesting” trying to determine the best way to communicate information with students. “The most important thing is going to the specific location to see how the students are doing.” 

On Feb. 4, the Bias Education Response Team (BERT) met to discuss the recent hate crime and how the panel could address it. “There is a lot going on behind the scenes as everything unravels so quickly,” González said. 

BERT is a committee comprised of faculty, administrators, and students, who respond to incidents of bias when they are reported through the online bias incident form. González said though the hate crime was not reported through the online form, the committee convened anyway to discuss solutions. 

Also on Feb. 4, English professor Kelly Matthews organized a demonstration with approximately 15 faculty members outside the McCarthy Center. They held up posters affirming their support for students and wore pins stating, “FSU Faculty Against Hate.”

Matthews emailed her colleagues over the weekend following the notification of the hate crime and invited them to gather where they would be visible to students. 

Matthews said, “We tried to show that we heard what students were saying last year when they said they need to see and hear professors saying that this is wrong, and we’re standing up against any form of hate speech, intimidation, racism, and other types of bias.” 

Sociology professor Virginia Rutter was also among the faculty members present at the demonstration. 

“We are very concerned about making sure students – especially students, but everyone in the community – know this should not be normalized, that we need to keep speaking up, speaking out, and working to change the culture.”

On Feb. 5, history professor Maria Bollettino’s class, “Slavery, Race, and Rights,” penned a petition to members of the administration. 

The petition urged administrators to require “students, faculty, and administrators and anyone involved at Framingham State University to complete workshops in person and trainings having to do with anti-racism, bias incidents, and diversity.” 

Stephanie Najemy, a junior and student representative for BERT, said she brought the petition to the committee following the class. She said the class brainstormed different ways to educate the community. “These workshops and trainings would be important because they would be face-to-face, in-person trainings, and workshops. It’s more effective this way versus via e-mail. 

She added, “Trainings and workshops over email are not effective. … Overall, students wanted something to be done about this recent incident, but didn’t know what to come up with.” 

Najemy said, “The petition would help to at least start something that could possibly lead to more ideas from more people, or at least create unity within the FSU community.” 

González said she plans to bring the student petition to other administrators. 

Amadine Muniz, a junior, signed the petition. She said Bollettino “mentioned how a petition from students would be a good way for us to get attention from the administration for our concerns.” 

Muniz said she signed the petition because “I’ve tried to understand the limits that the school might have as to how much they can realistically do to catch someone that does something like this. However, I understand people’s outrage over the incident, and I would think that the school would be open to incorporating suggestions from students.” 

Bollettino said many FSU faculty and administrators have advocated for “meaningful” anti-bias training, but that “opinions differ, however, regarding the form that anti-bias training should take.

“I believe that in-person workshops will better communicate our dedication to inclusive excellence and inspire greater self-reflection on the part of individuals than online modules,” said Bollettino. 

She added there are trainings that are optional through the Center for Inclusive Excellence, as well as online, but believes a required in-person training would be more impactful. 

Nahijah Maitre, a freshman who signed the petition in class, said, “This campus needs a bit of a change. I’m a freshman and currently, this is my second semester. I wasn’t here when the first hate crimes happened, but I was in the process of applying for schools, and I saw it in the media.” 

She suggested that students and administrators sit down together for more conversations so that students’ voices can be heard. “I am not blaming the school for anything that has happened or how they approached it. I just think something bigger should be done about this.”

Mabel Mathias, another freshman who also signed the petition, said, “The school administration needs to combat these hateful actions that keep happening here because nothing so far has seemed to have an impact.” 

Senior Emily Petro, who signed the petition in class, said, “Feeling safe and welcome on FSU’s campus is imperative to the overall wellbeing of this community. I, however, recognize that I have a very limited viewpoint as a white woman. I wasn’t a target of those words. But what I do know is that kind of behavior is unacceptable, and we as a student body must act. A poster saying, ‘No Hate,’ is not enough, frankly.” 

Other students expressed similar concerns regarding the University’s response to the latest hate crime. 

Ben Carrington, SGA president, said, “I can say that as a student of four years here at FSU, I’m upset that there have been yet again more hate crimes. I and other students want to see more action from the FSU administration. We need to do everything we can to protect our students and to make them feel safe.” 

Zhana Davis, a junior commuter and transfer student, said she found out about the graffiti through Facebook. “It was shocking. To think that black people are still being targeted, especially at an educational institution, is quite sad.

Davis said she initially came to FSU for the ASL program, and now regrets the decision because she feels unsafe as a person of color on campus. She said the hate crimes of 2017 factored into her decision not to live on campus. “I feel like I am one step closer to being a victim of these hate crimes.”