College

Facing criticism, UMass officials commit to action items in wake of outcry over racist incidents

The administration has come under scrutiny from the Black student community for not taking action faster.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Black student organizations recalled in a social media post that it had taken almost a month for the university to acknowledge these anti-Black racist incidents on campus. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Following Vice Chancellor Nefertiti Walker’s message to the UMass Amherst student community, the chancellor of UMass Amherst also sent an email to students Monday, condemning recent racist incidents that were targeted toward Black students on campus.

Some of those students, however, are questioning whether the university has responded quickly enough.

“We will not be intimidated by the hateful acts of craven individuals who hide in anonymity,” Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy said in his email. “We stand with our students who have been victimized, and we will continually strive for a more equitable community grounded in the principles of dignity and respect.”

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In his email, Subbaswamy announced that the university is investigating the racist email that was sent to numerous Black student groups, and had enlisted the services of Stroz Friedberg Digital Forensics, a cyber security firm. 

University of Massachusetts President Martin Meehan also released a press statement Monday, calling the racist attacks “appalling and disgusting.” 

“As the campus aggressively pursues the source of these vile messages, we must all join in active support of our students, and re-double our commitment to providing a safe, welcoming community for all students,” Meehan said. “We must treat any such attack on one group as an attack on all that we stand for as a university.”

The university has announced three initiatives following these incidents: a Black Joy, Black Healing and Black Justice forum; the launch of a Black Advisory Council; and increased funding for the Center of Racial Justice. 

These initiatives aim to support Black students and reach out directly to those who were targeted by these messages, and to provide educational opportunities and action steps, Subbaswamy said in the email. They also plan to release more initiatives in the coming months. 

'A Disturbing Increase':

However, the university administration has come under scrutiny from the Black community for not taking action faster.

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According to a Facebook post by the UMass Black Student Union, one of the incidents in which someone allegedly yelled anti-Black epithets at a student occurred in August, before the school semester began. The student organizations also said that they had begun to receive anti-Black racist emails as early as two weeks into September. They said that it had taken almost a month for the university to acknowledge these incidents on campus. 

“The university’s lengthy response time to racial incidents compared to their rapid response to non-racial incidents is not reflective of a university that claims to be ‘committed in policy, principle, and practice to maintaining an environment which prohibits discriminatory behavior and provides equal opportunity for all persons,'” the post read.

The UMass Amherst Black Student Union and Black Mass Communication Project will be holding their own safe space on Thursday for those who were affected by these incidents. 

“We are angry. We are hurt. We are tired,” the Black Student Union wrote. “And although we are disappointed, we are certainly not surprised.”

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