During the month of February, vandalism has been widespread on the Keene State College campus.
On Feb. 8, a swastika scratched into the surface of a wall in Owls Nest 6 was reported to Campus Safety.
Additionally, a series of incidents regarding a transgender-related bias have been reported in the Living and Learning Commons (LLC) throughout the month. The exact date in which the incidents began is unknown.
Director of Campus Safety Jeff Maher said Campus Safety first responded to the incident in early February, and the symbol in Owls Nest 6 measured about 2 inches by 2 inches.
He described it as “faint,” and it not being the first thing people would see if they were to walk into the building. “Because of that,” he said, “it was difficult to find out how long it had been there.”
Maher said Campus Safety officers took a report and spoke with a number of people in the building. The swastika was ultimately covered up and painted over.
In response, Interim President of Keene State College Dr. Melinda Treadwell sent out a campus-wide email on Monday, Feb. 19 with notice of holding what she called a Town Hall meeting to “discuss and re-commit to [KSC’s] values, mission and goals to create a community rooted in civility, respect and equity.” The meeting was held on Thursday, Feb. 22.
Maher said the meeting was really a presidential response, which speaks volumes in terms of how campus individuals choose to respond to such incidents when they do happen on our campus.
“When you have what might be perceived as bias-related incidents that impact members of our community or, at times, marginalize members of our community, it’s important that there be dialogue and discussion about that. It’s important that there’s an awareness about how these type of acts affect members of our community, affect their feelings of acceptance here, and so [the Town Hall meeting] is but one response,” Maher said.
This is not the first time KSC has seen a campus-wide meeting on such a topic, however. In December of 2016, Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Dottie Morris said the first meeting occurred, in which the idea for the KSC Teach-In was formed.
The goal of the Town Hall meeting, Morris said, was to talk about behavioral expectations, among other things. “It’s also just a time to come together within community and support each other and to be there for each other and just to show that we care… For me, that’s the main goal, is that we come together, we show support, we show care and then we think about ways that we can be even a more respectful community and show compassion for each other,” Morris said. “It’s time to recommit to the values of this institution and recommit to co-creating a welcoming environment for everybody.”
Additionally, Maher said the LLC has seen a series of incidents that “seem to be suggestive of some bias towards members of our transgender community.”
After a number of educational programs were put on by resident assistants (RA’s) in the LLC related to identity terminology, specifically an event called “Lingo Bingo,” Maher said some displays have been ripped down or removed from walls, which may indicate a bias towards that programming or toward those members of that community.
In addition, there have been several incidents where students expressing their identity on their personal whiteboards placed on their doors has been erased.
At the Town Hall meeting held on Feb. 22, first year LLC resident Jay Pereira put a face to some of the incidences KSC has seen over the past month. The whiteboard incidents? They happened to her, she said.
“We try to put a symbol of our identity, a symbol of solidarity with our community, up there,” she said, “and it gets erased. We try to spread awareness, it gets erased. We want to show people, ‘Hey, we exist,’ and it gets erased, and that s— hurts a lot.”
Campus Safety officers have responded and are trying to learn more about the incident, Maher said.
“It’s important to recognize, while it’s unfortunate that these types of events happen in our community, I think it’s a measure of our institution and our community about how we respond to this,” he added.
The response to the incident in the LLC involved engaging Residential Life with floor members to talk about what happened, discussing why it happened and why it shouldn’t happen again and additional outreach and educational programming through Morris and Program Support Assistant for LGBTQ+ Students Hunter Kirschner to get into the residential halls and have further conversations.
“It’s easy to dismiss the impact of what erasing a whiteboard does,” Kirschner said, “but what those students were trying to express on that whiteboard was their identity, it was who they are. They wanted to make sure that they were seen.”
Kirschner said the main event in response to the series of bias-related incidents was called Pride in the LLC. There were different stations set up with ways to engage, as well as the opportunity to create two banners displaying community values and support.
Another event titled Levels of Pride is being planned by Morris, Kirschner and the LLC’s Hall Council for late March.
“Since so much of trans or queer identity is invisibilized in our greater culture, [the students] all say, ‘No, this is who I am,’ and so having that erased effectively is erasing their identity and that’s really harmful,” Kirshner said.
“And so if you’re feeling that you’re constantly erased, not seen, not understood, you don’t feel a part of this community, you don’t feel like people care about you and that’s a terrible thing to feel. It’s terrible to feel unsafe where you live. These students are trying to learn, they’re trying to go to school, not necessarily trying to advocate for themselves for their right to just exist.”
When responding to incidents such as this, Morris said it’s important to make it a teachable moment, where everyone’s involved. To some, these actions may seem so small and insignificant, but to those they have an impact on, it is major for them, Morris said.
“We do want to make this a community where people feel as though they can enjoy themselves, they can be proud of who they are and that they can grow and develop, and so we want to pay attention to it.”
It’s not just an LLC problem, however. Programming will be occurring through both Morris and Kirschner across campus in all residential halls in order to spread acceptance and support to all KSC students.
Anyone with additional information on either incidents can submit it as a silent witness on the KSC website or contact Morris or Campus Safety directly.
Silent Witness: https://cm.maxient.com/reportingform.php?KeeneStateCollege&layout_id=8
Campus Safety: 603-358-222
Dottie Morris: email@example.com
Jessica Ricard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sebastien Mehegan can be contacted at email@example.com