Campus forum on racist symbols to be held Sept. 29

The university will hold a special campus forum this week for a discussion of racist symbols following distribution of photos in which student leaders are shown posing in front of a Ku Klux Klan drawing. The forum will be held Wednesday, Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. in the Lincoln Campus Center Auditorium.

“I found the pictures to be disgusting and disturbing,” said Michael Gargano, vice chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life. “We will get to the bottom of this incident, and we will hold the students involved fully accountable. Based on the outcome of our investigation, there can be serious consequences, up to and including dismissal.”

Gargano emphasized, however, that he believes this incident points to enduring issues of ignorance and intolerance on campus. To begin addressing those concerns, he has asked Sidonio Ferreira, associate dean for student support, to organize the campus-wide forum. The forum follows a Sunday afternoon meeting of ALANA (African, Latino, Asian and Native American) students attended by Gargano and dean of students Jo-Anne Vanin.

“There are larger issues here than this one, very disturbing incident,” Gargano said. “This case reflects the difficulty that colleges nationwide have encountered in creating diverse living and learning communities. At UMass Amherst, these attitudes were evident last year when our Holocaust memorial was defaced, and last weekend when the statue of Chief Metawampe was vandalized. We need to educate people. We need to build bridges of understanding and respect.”

Vanin said she expects the university’s review of the incident to move ahead promptly. Existence of the pictures emerged over the weekend, and an investigation was immediately launched. Vanin said the investigation will examine potential alcohol violations and misuse of university facilities as well as racist symbols.