After homicide, black U. of Maryland students demand change — and get it

Posted at 8:57 PM, May 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-25 20:57:02-04

Richard Wilbur Collins III

For years, students complained, saying University of Maryland officials needed to do more to prevent or respond to racist incidents on campus.

Then Richard Collins III was stabbed to death at a campus bus stop.

The death of the young black Army lieutenant — just three days before his graduation — spurred renewed tensions at UMD and prompted officials to roll out a series of new anti-hate initiatives.

“As we grieve the loss of Lt. Richard Collins III of Bowie State University, we must also act to combat hate and create a safer campus,” UMD President Wallace D. Loh said in a statement Wednesday.

But even before Collins’ death, the university has been grappling with a series of racially charged incidents.

Racist flyers, slurs and a noose

Tamara Adams vividly remembers the day she saw the white nationalist flyers posted on campus: “America is a white nation,” it read.

“I questioned whether or not I (as an African-American) was welcome on the University of Maryland campus,” the senior said.

Those posters went up in March. The next month, someone left a noose in the kitchen of UMD’s Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house.

UMD police called the incident a “hateful act” and launched a “hate/bias investigation.”

Student Alexis Ojeda-Brown refused to stay silent. Earlier this month, she used a bullhorn to denounce the noose incident on an open area of campus — only to have students respond by saying, “Who cares?”

Many students recalled a fraternity member’s racist email that was eventually forwarded to a university staff member in 2015. The email not only used epithets against African-American, Asian and other minority women, but also appeared to promote sexual assault by saying, “f*** consent.”

Senior Clarissa Corey-Bey grew up in the same county as the campus — Prince George’s County — but had never been called the “N word” until reaching UMD.

But the simmering racial tensions boiled over after a gruesome stabbing death.

Sean Christopher Urbanski has been arrested in the stabbing death of Richard Wilbur Collins III on the University of Maryland campus.

Senseless killing leads to change

Collins, 23, was standing at a bus stop with friends on Saturday when a UMD student, Sean Christopher Urbanski, stabbed him in the chest, police said.

The College Park campus police chief said the suspect was a member of a “despicable” Facebook group called “Alt-Reich,” which spewed hatred toward blacks and other minorities.

While the motive is not yet clear, the FBI is investigating whether the killing should be prosecuted as a hate crime.

But the Black Student Union said enough was enough.

“This is not the first incident exposing the escalating racial tensions at the University of Maryland, and if the administration does not extend their actions beyond ‘dialogue’, it will surely not be the last,” the group wrote in a statement Monday.

Two days later, the UMD president unveiled a five-part action plan, effective immediately. That plan includes:

— Creating a trained, rapid-response team for any hate-based incident

— Allocating $100,000 for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion “to support diversity and inclusion efforts that educate all members of our community”

— Creating an annual report on all hate-bias incidents on campus, which will also include information about ongoing prevention, response and education measures

— Asking the Athletic Council to work on explicitly prohibiting “any hate-bias symbols or actions in any athletic venue”

— Establishing a task force on hate-bias and campus safety, comprised of faculty, staff, students and alumni.

UMD spokeswoman Katie Lawson said anti-hate efforts had already started before Collins’ death.

“As we and other universities across the nation have been grappling with these issues, we been working on action steps for some time,” she said. “This tragedy accelerated the process.”

‘I’m in a constant state of anxiety’

The UMD Black Student Union issued a statement Thursday saying it’s pleased with President Loh’s action plan — though more work needs to be done.

Ojeda-Brown said she’s holding her praise until she sees real results.

While the rising senior said she doesn’t regret choosing UMD and considers it a “great school academic wise,” she still deals with the anxiety of not knowing whether one of her classmates may have been the one who hung a noose on campus.

“I’m in a constant state of anxiety to the point where I can’t focus in class when incidents like this happen,” she said.