By Allihies Melton
In the past few weeks we’ve watched cities tear down their Confederate monuments as our country is struggling to deal with its past and its present. In the face of today’s white supremacists, it seems that by destroying these memorials aimed at commemorating people like them, we are able to reflect and come together to confront the oppression that still reigns today.
However, at this university, students have built a memorial, not for a white supremacist but for an innocent man who was killed.
The temporary memorial for Lt. Richard Collins III contains flowers on the benches and several signs. One reads, “THIS IS NOT A BUS STOP THIS IS THE SCENE OF A MURDER RIP Lt. Collins III.”
On Sept. 8, the University of Maryland Department of Transportation Services moved the bus stop closer to Annapolis Hall. The bus stop has been taped off and will remain a temporary memorial. Before closing off this platform however, students were free to sit and wait near the spot where Lt. Richard Collins III was killed in May.
Sean Urbanski, a former student at this university, has been charged with his murder. Urbanski was a member of “Alt-Reich: Nation” on Facebook, a group page to share racist memes. The FBI is working to determine if the murder was a hate crime.
On Sept. 1, Katelyn Turner, senior government and politics and philosophy double major, felt fear and anger as she passed the bus stop at Montgomery Hall one night and saw students disregarding and disrespecting the place of Collins’ death.
In an interview, Turner said this spot is a toxic place for people of color, a space where a modern day lynching took place.
In a Facebook post, Turner said, “See, the University of Maryland likes to make a show of its diversity and responsiveness to issues. It’s why we have a new diversity task force and other diversity initiatives … What the University doesn’t like to do is acknowledge its truth.”
“Such truth was revealed to me as I stood a few centimeters away from what looks like Richard’s blood stains while witnessing pure ignorance and impassiveness from my fellow classmates. I watched as drunken students leaned on the platform, clutching greasy pizza boxes, talking about Pokemon Go or the party they just left as if they weren’t standing at a memorial — a murder scene.”
The closed-off bus stop is only a temporary memorial, a place for students to grieve, heal and think. In a statement by university spokeswoman Katie Lawson, she said, “The university has received preliminary consent to begin discussions regarding a memorial to honor Lt. Collins, pending further discussions with his family. Our thoughts remain with his family, friends and classmates.”
White supremacists don’t just live in Charlottesville. They live in College Park too. And while students of color experience this racism everyday, the murder of Lt. Richard Collins III forced this university to reevaluate the diverse and progressive campus it claims to be.
In a statement from President Loh on Aug. 17, he said, “We are determined to wrest from tragedy the necessary changes to our campus climate and culture so that we embody more fully the values that we stand for.”
The administration has tried to deal with the several racial hate incidents that have plagued the school for some time. Some of the changes to our campus have been the re-naming of Byrd Stadium, erecting a Frederick Douglass statue and, most recently, appointing new Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Roger Worthington. All in hopes this campus can become finally become unified.
Turner said the university must, “acknowledge, but also condemn white supremacy,” on our campus. And in order to help this campus bridge racial tension, she suggests more dialogue between white people of privilege and people of color so students can all advocate on behalf of those who feel unsafe and excluded.
While the temporary memorial might be of annoyance to students who are waiting for shuttles, it is important that people are now forced to stop, remember and reflect on what happened to Lt. Richard Collins.
For some students, this murder was a nightmare but for others, it could’ve been their reality.
Featured Photo Credit: The temporary memorial for Lt. Richard Collins at the previous blue bus stop (Lisa Woolfson/Bloc Photographer).
Allie Melton is a senior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.