Academic year sees numerous hateful incidents amid College development
by James Burnett
Colby has undergone many changes this year. Many of the goals set forth by the College in the Dare Northward campaign are coming to fruition: the Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons was successfully opened to students, the new Colby Athletics Center is nearing completion, and the acceptance rate dropped from 13 percent last year to 9.5 percent.
However, the school year has also been characterized by several hateful and discriminatory incidents targeting marginalized groups on campus. Four swastikas have been drawn on campus since February. The anti-Semitic symbols were found scratched into elevators in Dana Residence Hall and Anthony — Mitchell — Schupf Residence Hall.
A racist theme party on Nov. 2, “Akon Day,” was hosted by Colby students living downtown. A subsequent email from the Student Government Association (SGA) to students explained, “At this party, white students chose to dress as ‘convicts’ in orange jumpsuits, with big gold hoop earrings and big gold chains. Some also chose to write the word ‘AFRICA’ across their bodies and draw fake tears on their faces (a symbol heavily related to gang culture.)” The email added that students chanted ‘Africa, Africa, Africa,’ in the halls of the downtown dorm.
In response to the party, the administration held three Community Conversation dinners. At these events, students, administrators and faculty discussed race, privilege and accountability at the College. Provost and Dean of Faculty Margaret McFadden explained the conversations were held as part of an effort to respond to “incidents of bias that occurred on campus this year.”
Another important topic of conversation on campus this academic year was the existence of fraternities and other secret underground organizations at the College. After a student posted on the Civil Discourse to describe part of the recruitment process for a secret society, Erosophian Adelphi, the College hired lawyer and former police sergeant Jon Goodman to conduct an external investigation into underground Greek life. Dean of the College Karlene A. Burrell-McRae ’94 asked students to help with the investigation by providing evidence to Goodman.
When Students4Change distributed a zine containing alleged information about underground Greek organizations at Colby on April 12, the group received a number of threatening, hateful messages. One racist message, which the group published on Civil Discourse, threatened the group with physical violence for publishing the address of a fraternity lake house.
In an email to students on April 25, President of the College David A. Greene announced that the College had “identified the individual who submitted this post, and that student was immediately removed from campus and suspended indefinitely while undergoing disciplinary review.”
After more than two months, Goodman’s investigation remains ongoing. However, Burrell-McRae emailed students on May 6 announcing that, “The investigation thus far has been productive and has yielded clear and compelling evidence about underground fraternity and secret society operations at Colby.”
Burell-McRae said Goodman has interviewed more than 20 individuals and has “reviewed physical and electronic evidence.” She added that the investigation will be completed by the end of this academic year.
SGA went through a period of uncertainty this year when both President Tayler Haberstock ’19 and Vice-President Sam Lee ’20 resigned on Feb. 19 and Feb. 24, respectively. Haberstock had been asked by Burell-McRae to resign due to his involvement in a Men’s Lacrosse “Wine Party” that took place on Jan. 17.
Haberstock — a member of the lacrosse team — had volunteered to be a “sober monitor” at the party, according to a statement he made at a meeting on Feb 17. Haberstock said the party got “out of hand” and six students who attended the party were transported to the hospital that night.
Seniors who attended the wine party were suspended for the first four games of the season.
Lee resigned five days later. At a meeting on Feb. 24, she said that she would “not be an effective leader right now” and explained that she needed to focus on herself.
On March 3, the SGA’s Presidents’ Council elected Matthew Garza ’20 and Ashlee Guevara ’21 to serve as co-presidents for the rest of the academic year.
This year, conversation also focused around the College’s efforts to ensure that students and faculty can vote in Waterville. Four days before the midterm election in November, 165 ballots from members of the College community were challenged on the basis of incorrect registration.
The ballots were challenged because when registering to vote, these individuals listed their four-digit P.O. box code instead of a residential address. The effort to challenge the ballots was led by Maine State HD110 Candidate and Oakland resident Mark Andre.
In an email to students on April 30, Greene explained that 77 of the challenged voters “appeared at a hearing with the city registrar to provide additional evidence that they met the residency requirements for voting.” All 77 of those voters were then certified to cast ballots in Waterville.
However, the challengers brought the case to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. On March 11, the chief justice of the court dismissed the case.
The challenge did not end there. From May 1 to May 3, the Waterville Voter Registration Appeals Board held a series of public hearings to hear from Waterville residents. Colby students and professors testified, and a lawyer representing Colby College attended.
In an email to students, Greene explained that “the Appeals Board voted unanimously to deny the appeal of those challenging the right of many Colby students, faculty, and staff to vote in local elections.”
Greene added, “This is an important outcome to protect the legal rights of voters in the city.”
As the academic year winds to a close, Vice President and Dean of Student Advancement C. Andrew McGadney announced to students on Tuesday that the commencement speaker will be television writer David E. Kelley and the baccaluareate speaker will be civil rights attorney Mary L. Bonauto.