SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – On the third Monday of January each year, swarms of students, staff, and faculty march along campus to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. But this year on a momentous day for communities of color, University of Utah officials said someone etched the N-word into the ice on a car windshield on campus.
“We were excited to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and throughout the week,” said Annalisa Purser, spokesperson for the University of Utah. “But we were really disappointed that this happened Monday. These are terrible events and they impact all of us. I would say to our campus community that that is not what we stand for. We are here to stand together, to be strong, and to not let things like this divide us.”
Ale Aguilar, whose family is from Guatemala said she’s experienced racial harassment before on campus as a student and knows the impact it could have on someone else.
“I’ve had incidents where students have said the S-word to me,” said Aguilar. “I think what happened on Monday is bull.”
University officials said the individuals involved in the case have been identified and appropriate actions will be taken.
“This word evokes white supremacy, reminds us that a violent, racist past is still with us today, and invokes fear at a time when we strive to ensure that all our staff, students, and faculty find their place as part of our campus community,” said officials in a statement.
They went on to say, “We will not tolerate such behavior, but when done covertly, we cannot stop the act in the moment. What we can do—and what we will do—is build our anti-racist muscles.”
Student Devyn Whatley said he feels administrators are doing a satisfactory job in responding to these types of racially-charged incidents.
“This was something insensible to begin with and sort of irrational. I’m glad they’re not letting it slip by because by doing so would be saying it’s tolerated. I do think a form of prosecution should come across, but not something too severe,” he said.
Purser said college campuses around the country, including the University of Utah have been targets of racial incidents and white supremacist propaganda. That’s why she said officials take every incident seriously and abide by a zero-tolerance policy.
“When these things happen, we are reporting them to our campus community, letting them know what happened, what’s been done, what they can do when they find these, and providing some education about the purpose and intent behind them,” she said. “We want to be proactive so we’ve invested in dialogues, trainings, panel discussions, and committees to promote values of inclusion and equity on campus.”
Despite what she’s experienced, Aguilar said she has always felt safe and welcome on the University of Utah campus.
“The administration is really good about nipping these things in the bud. They want to be as inclusive and bring in as many diverse students as they can,” she said. “But I think we can always take more steps to be an inclusive place and bring more people into the conversation.”
The university’s statement said the Office of the Vice President for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion will establish a new initiative,'”bringing together several committees focused on creating a more inclusive community, both on and off-campus.’ More information about the racial incident is expected to be released at a later time.
“When things like this happen, it can be divisive and it’s important to call that out when it happens and to be transparent with our community about what is occurring,” said Purser.
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