Is President Loh REALLY Ready to Combat Racism?

The former bus stop turned memorial site reserved for Lt. Richard Collins III. Photo: Simret Aklilu

The former bus stop turned memorial site reserved for Lt. Richard Collins III. Photo: Simret Aklilu

The end of the spring semester is a time filled with nostalgia and bittersweet memories, and a time of reflection for many college students as they embark on the journey ahead. But for the University of Maryland and Bowie State University, the conclusion of last semester unveiled the bubbling racial tensions on campus.

On May 20, Richard Collins III, an African American Army Lieutenant and a student of Bowie State University, was stabbed and murdered at a bus stop by a white Maryland student, Sean Urbanski, who belonged to an Alt-Reich Facebook group. No hate crime charges were brought against Urbanski.

The bus stop, located in front of Montgomery Hall, now stands as a memoriala painful reminder of how the life of a young man was ended in such a horrific manner. Complete with a white sign post that redirects students to Annapolis hall for the bus stop, the walls of the bus stop are surrounded with pictures of Collins, the seats dressed with sunflowers while the entrance of the bus stop draped with black tape.

A few days after the murder, President Wallace D. Loh issued a statement to the university stating that he would allocate $100,000 to support diversity education programming on the campus. Loh said that the university would be forming a “campus-wide task force for a comprehensive review of UMD policies and procedures related to hate-bias and campus safety.”

Furthermore, the university would create a task force to combat hate bias and release an annual report of all hate-bias incidents on campus which will serve as a litmus test for “the scope of the problem and the effectiveness of our response and prevention.”

Amidst all these measures that are targeted towards combating hate-crimes and hate-bias, there are many incidents of past years that may cast a shadow of doubt on Loh’s ability to keep his word.

One of  these incidents is the anti-immigrant chalkings that appeared on Social Justice Day. UMD’s first ‘Social Justice Day was held on April 18- a day that was planned to promote social justice and unite members of the community. Instead ‘Social Justice Day’ was overshadowed with messages like “Deport Dreamers”, “Wall, wall, wall”, and “#Trump2020” that were scrawled on the ground of several locations on campus.

Students took to Twitter imploring Loh to condemn the act and find those responsible. He disappointed them.

Instead, Loh’s tweets described the chalkings as a form of communication- a way to “exchange ideas and engage in debate.” He ended the tweet with “keep the conversation going.” Responses like these are what we call into question as to whether he is willing to go the extra mile to make students of color feel safe on campus.

At the end of the day, it comes down to whether or not the leaders of this university are willing to call out and condemn acts that marginalize certain groups of people. If they are content with labeling the display of blatant racism around the campus as an “debate” or “exchange of ideas”, then the university is in trouble.