Black and Latino students claim profiling at Providence College




by Erika Niedowski

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A group of students and faculty at Providence College is asking the school to take steps to combat what it calls a pattern of racial profiling of minority students on campus and a hostile climate.

Members of the newly formed “Coalition Against Racism” say campus security regularly questions minority students about whether they belong on school grounds. They say that minority students are followed by security in places like the bookstore and have been called racial epithets by other students and that the N-word was written in a dorm bathroom last year.

Ben Alves, a 22-year-old junior from Boston, said he and two friends who are also minorities were recently asked to show their IDs while playing basketball at the gym, though they had already swiped them to get in. He said White students weren’t asked to do the same.

“You can walk into any setting — the library, the gym — and you will be questioned and eyes will fall on you because you stand out,” said Alves, who is of Cape Verdean descent.

Juan Beato-Lopez, a 21-year-old black Latino from Worcester, Mass., said he was once prevented from buying books in the campus store until he returned with additional identification and was told by a cafeteria worker while speaking Spanish that he should “speak American” because “this is America.”

Members of the coalition want the school to implement a policy prohibiting profiling, create a credit-bearing course on race relations and take other actions.

Providence College officials say the school is committed to furthering efforts to embrace diversity — one of its five adopted “core values” — and prevent harassment and discrimination. There is an existing campuswide policy against harassment and discrimination, and the school last year hired its first chief diversity officer.

Spokesman Steven Maurano said the school “moved swiftly” to address students’ concerns about profiling; they have met twice with administrators, including the college president, the Rev. Brian Shanley. He said the college has arranged for its security staff to undergo “cultural competency” training, which will begin in about a month.

The school, which is private and Catholic, says minorities make up 13.5 percent of its nearly 4,000 students. About 24 percent of the state population is a racial or ethnic minority.

Julia Jordan-Zachery, a political science professor who is also director of black studies, wants the administration to do more. She said she, too, has been profiled by security, including being questioned while trying to park on campus, even though she has a parking decal from the college prominently displayed. Jordan-Zachery is black.

She said she was harassed on social media and in emails in February after she announced that a school justice award would be named after slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. The 2012 shooting of the unarmed black 17-year-old by a Hispanic neighborhood watchman led to a national debate about racial profiling.

In one of the emails, which were shared with The Associated Press, the writer called Jordan-Zachery “a disgusting racist pig” for naming the award after Martin and said she was trying to create a “race war.” The email also said: “White people should be given an award for killing Black people” and “black people should be given an award for killing Mexican and Asians.”

The school investigated the emails and determined none came from campus accounts or posed a threat, according to Maurano. Shanley met with Jordan-Zachery to discuss the emails and addressed it at a March faculty meeting. The president said “in no uncertain terms that racism would not be tolerated on the college’s campus,” Maurano said.

Jordan-Zachery wants the president to send that message to the whole campus. She said the emails were upsetting enough, but she also criticized what she called the “silence of the institution.”

She said schools including Dartmouth College and Oberlin College have more aggressively confronted incidents of racial intolerance on campus. Dartmouth canceled classes after students were threatened online for staging a protest decrying homophobia, sexual assault and racism on campus. Oberlin did the same after a report of someone wearing what looked like a Ku Klux Klan-type hooded robe.

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