By Sara Salimi
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion held “The Circle” Wednesday, Nov. 14, an event featuring campus conversations on hate and bias.
The event takes place on the second Wednesday of every month and is focused on three main premises: support, solutions and self-care. It is open to all students, faculty and staff.
Neijma Celestine-Donnor is the program manager at UMD for Hate/Bias Response. She leads efforts that respond to hate and bias incidents through trauma-focused support and education. She led the discussion among a group of about 20 people, including both students and staff.
Celestine-Donnor started by asking participants to describe the current campus climate as it relates to inclusion. Stressed, tense, frustrated, divided, and confusing were the responses.
Nana Brantuo, a graduate assistant at the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, explained that the university is doing little to address hate-bias incidents. “Each college at UMD has a different culture, and it’s as if we live in different worlds,” she said.
Seventeen hate-bias reports were made last year. This semester, almost the same number has been reported but is expected to double or triple by the end of the school year given the observed rates thus far, Celestine-Donnor explained. “How did we get here?” she asked.
The first concern raised was the campus community’s lack of knowledge about available resources. “Prejudice is nothing new, discrimination is nothing new,” Brantuo said. The problem the group identified is that the university has not done a good job of addressing such issues through serious, organized efforts.
Participants explained that most hate-bias incidents are about emotional safety. The university, they said, needs to take steps to treat these incidents just as seriously as it treats cases of physical violence.
“We have to say something, and it has to be direct,” Brantuo said. The group came up with several solutions to begin addressing and preventing hate-bias incidents on campus. One approach called for alerting the university community about hate-bias incidents, considering that such cases are underreported.
Another approach suggested taking the initiative one step further. “It’s one thing to alert everyone, but what are the expectations following the incidents?” said David Petersen, a psychologist at the counseling center. The group agreed that one effective measure would be to put violators through a hate-bias training program focused on accountability.
The event ended on a practical note. Celestine-Donnor emphasized that “The Circle” is not just an initiative for addressing incidents after they happen, but rather a safe space for discussing hate-bias issues on campus and coming up with communal solutions to address them.
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion also has a hate-bias response program where students can report incidents of hate or bias in person or online through the program’s website.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Sara Salimi/Bloc Reporter.
Sara Salimi is a senior multiplatform journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.