‘Racial vandalism’ sparks candle vigil
by Jeff Frankel
Just one week after the University’s week-long program to encourage diversity on campus, vandals wrote a derogatory word on several doors in a residence hall on Sunday.
The incident occurred on Oct. 14 in Gee Hall sometime between 4 and 5 a.m. when someone wrote the “N-word” on the doors of eight rooms of both male and female students, said Vickie Weaver, director of Public Safety.
It was written on all the doors of the hall’s second-floor A-wing, and on one door on both the first and second floor’s B-wing. One resident’s door vandalized that night belonged to a black student, Weaver said.
Because the word was written throughout the building, authorities don’t think it was directed at any specific
individual. Lawrence Township Police were called to take over the investigation.
“We take all matters of bias incidents very seriously,” said Weaver. “We are cooperating fully with the Lawrence Township Police Department as they continue their investigation.”
The suspect or suspects are still at large, according to Weaver.
In response to the “racial vandalism” that occurred, University officials and student leaders held a Unity Vigil on Wednesday in the Cavalla Room of the Bart Luedeke Center to reaffirm the school’s Community Values and to support diversity on campus.
“The hateful words have been removed, but can never be cleansed from the eyes that observed them,” President Mordechai Rozanski said in an e-mail sent on Monday to the Rider community. “There is no place on this campus or anywhere else for acts of intolerance and repugnant behavior.”
Dual vigils were supposed to take place simultaneously on both the Lawrenceville and Princeton campuses, but Westminster’s vigil was cancelled at the last minute for another vigil being held for Justin Warfield, an 18-year-old freshman who died off-campus early Wednesday morning of a possible drug overdose.
At the Lawrenceville event, SGA Diversity Chair Davendra Brijlall read from the Statement of Community Values in front of the group that had assembled, including student leaders. Later, candles were lit and held by all who attended.
“Rider University prides itself as a community,” Brijlall said at the vigil. “We are here to work together as a community. We are all one race, the human race.”
This sentiment was echoed by Dean of Students Anthony Campbell.
“This was enough of an affront to all of us that we just needed to take a stand and make a public statement,” Campbell said. “We need to say as a community that we do not tolerate this. We demand better of our students, and you cannot be educated and intolerant at the same time.”
The incident was also discussed at Tuesday’s Lawrenceville SGA Senate meeting where Campbell and Don Brown, director of Multicultural Affairs and Community Service, had a candid conversation with the group.
Brown used the incident as a “teaching moment.”
“There is no place for hate here at Rider,” Brown said. “This kind of occurrence on a campus can split a campus apart. It’s not about hate, it’s all about community.”
Brian Pawelko, vice president of the Lawrenceville SGA said at Tuesday’s meeting that this incident was not like the one at Columbia University where a noose was recently found hanging on a black professor’s door. That event sparked harsh criticism and gained much media attention.
Campbell said what happened in Gee was most likely the work of a person who wasn’t “using their head” when he or she scribbled the word on the doors in the early hours of the morning.
“It’s not part of Rider University or any other place,” he said. “It’s not what we believe in. We celebrate diversity.”
Brijlall said that he meets bi-weekly with all the diversity groups on campus. A diversity-themed Bronc Buffet is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 16.
— Additional reporting by Paul Mullin