June 8, 2007
By Anita Martin
The Ohio University Police Department today brought two criminal misdemeanor charges -- for menacing and ethnic intimidation -- against an individual who allegedly made racial slurs and physical threats to two African-American female students on the second floor of Alden Library on May 31 around noon.
The accused individual appeared for a University Judiciaries hearing at 3 p.m. today. The criminal case will be heard later in Athens Municipal Court.
"This is something we simply do not tolerate on our campus, now or ever," University President Roderick J. McDavis said of the incident. "We take this seriously and have acted quickly -- in less than a week -- to investigate the incident and resolve it according to policy."
According to Wanda Weinberg, head of Alden Library's reference and instruction desks, no full-time library staff witnessed the incident, which took place in a public area remote from staffing. One library student worker saw some disruption, but was not close enough to hear the words exchanged. The two women did not report the exchange to any library personnel, who learned of the incident the following week.
"Ohio University embraces difference in all of its forms, but words or actions that demean or threaten students, faculty or staff undermine our heritage as an institution and have no place in a true institution of learning," McDavis said.
McDavis began making administrative changes this spring aimed at substantially strengthening the campus culture of inclusion.
"This incident underscores the importance of the recent decision to put all the diversity and equity functions of the university under one umbrella," the president said. "I look forward to bringing in a vice provost for equity and diversity who can develop a detailed plan for creating a culture of freedom and acceptance that other institutions will consider a model."
In addition, the "Difficult Dialogues" program, developed by Ohio University faculty and funded by a Ford Foundation grant, is scheduled to begin fall quarter. In this year-long program, students will learn how to engage in serious, spirited and constructive dialogue with people of differing views and backgrounds.
"We cannot forget to use these situations as teaching moments, and not just for students," Vice President for Student Affairs Kent Smith said. "We need a stronger, broader conversation about the importance of diversity education as it relates race, religion, thought, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity and so forth in our community."
Hector Perla, an associate professor of political science, said that he has seen "a significant effort to promote diversity on campus, but more can be done." He said students tell him it is not the first case of ethnic intimidation they've witnessed on campus.
Amanda Nolacea Harris, an assistant professor of modern languages, organized a rally to demonstrate support for the two victims and raise awareness of the incident. The rally took place today at 2:30 p.m. on the second floor of Baker Center, where the accused individual's hearing was to take place a half hour later.
A group of about 100 people of all ages came and went from the gathering, including students, faculty, administrators and community members.
"Although there is not a great deal of disagreement surrounding this (incident) at the university, I think my physical presence here helps to show the values we embody on this campus," said Heather Riwin, a communications development masters student at Ohio University.
As a Muslim student, Riwin feels that on Ohio University's campus, "most people are very accepting, but every so often I get stares or yelled at."
Protester suggestions for university action included harsh sanctions for the accused individual, increased multicultural programming and a required freshman diversity course.
"This is not a trend (at Ohio University) -- as in, it's not growing," said Arthur Hughes, associate professor of Spanish. "But (intolerance) is here… not just at Ohio University, but in the United States in general."