By Brian Edsall
President David Yellen openly welcomed returning students Monday morning via email in a memorandum to the Marist community. However after three sentences, Yellen transitioned to reflecting on troubling events throughout the United States – specifically citing recent protests and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Yellen states in his memorandum that “Acts of hate motivated by race, ethnicity, and religion seem to be on the rise, and many of these conflicts are being played out on college campuses.” He emphasizes that, although he cannot guarantee that acts of hate will not happen at Marist, he hopes that acceptance, respectful conversation and the mission of the institution will persevere.
Furthermore, Yellen sets an expectation for students to truly live a life of diversity and inclusion by attending cultural events, actively engaging with those of a different background or point of view, challenge long-held beliefs and stretch intellectual boundaries.
Despite Yellen’s statements, Marist College has not been distant from acts of hate based on race, ethnicity or religion.
On November 16th, 2016, President Yellen informed the Marist community of “disturbing events” which occurred on campus, including swastikas drawn on bathroom stalls and a woman who reported being “accosted with shouts of ‘Go back to Africa.’”
Former Marist student and former board member of the Black Student Union, Ashley Haynes, was interviewed at the time, stating “My freshman year, my friend and I were walking out of the Rotunda to the Lower New Houses and two guys were yelling at us from the window trying to talk to us. When we didn’t respond, they yelled ‘f*** you n******’...which was ridiculous.”
Marist College attempted to address issues on culture and diversity by introducing a “multi-cultural floor” in one of the North Campus Housing buildings, working closely with the Center of Multicultural Affairs and its intercultural council in an effort to promote an open living environment for students of many different backgrounds to interact.
Many students, however, reacted negatively to this new addition. At the time, former Student Body President Brandon Heard, ’17, felt conflicted about the addition, stating “When it comes to race, gender, sexual orientation, etc…the world beyond that floor doesn’t necessarily foster inclusive environments.”
Conflict over race, gender, culture and other similar topics have certainly been at the center of present issues in the United States, and the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia is proof of what these conflicts can produce.
Surely President Yellen does not anticipate white supremacists, neo-Nazis or KKK members to protest on campus. Nonetheless, institutions such as Marist College find themselves at the forefront of these issues. While President Yellen lays the foundation for addressing these prominent issues, he encourages the students to bear the responsibility to truly make a difference.