FARGO — After what he called a tumultuous two weeks, North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani offered an apology and released a preliminary plan of action and timeline on Wednesday, Dec. 16, to try to improve and ease the racial climate on campus.
The plan, which he described as "just a beginning," follows social media posts uncovered in recent weeks by NDSU students. Bresciani referred to the posts as hate speech against people of color, which he said "has no place on our campus."
One campus Snapchat group used a slur against Black people in its name, while another post included a video mocking the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
NDSU administrators also received a threatening, six-paragraph email last week accusing Bresciani of being biased and an anti-white political operative.
The email refers to him as evil and a detriment to the white race after he marched with students throughout the NDSU campus earlier this month. It was signed by the "NDSU European-American Student Union."
Campus Provost Margaret Fitzgerald said in an interview Wednesday that they still don't know if the group exists. The case is still under investigation, she said, adding the organization is not recognized by the university.
In the "campus update" email sent out Wednesday by Bresciani in the midst of final exam week, he apologized "to the students, faculty and staff who have been deeply harmed."
"I reaffirm my own commitment to more effectively stand against hate and foster a truly inclusive and welcoming campus community," he wrote.
He described the plan of action so far as:
- Reviewing the student code of conduct with updates by the end of spring.
- Requiring culture and diversity training for all students starting next fall.
- Further investigating the student social media incidents through the campus Equity Office and hiring an outside consultant to assist.
- Continuing the work of a 15-member task force with a preliminary report by next month on ways to make NDSU more diverse and inclusive.
Fitzgerald, who is a member of the task force made up of students, faculty, administrators and staff, said they have spent time so far "listening to students and their experiences."
She asked for "grace and patience" from the campus community and others as they "work on strategies to improve the campus climate."
A step requested by the campus chapter of Black Lives Matter to add a person of color to the task force has been completed as NDSU Black Student Association President Kayla Jones joined the group.
Meanwhile, a member of the BLM campus chapter responded to Brescani's latest email in a phone interview Wednesday.
Olivia Laven said she thought the email laid out a "good foundation," but she said she wants to see what policy changes are really going to be made.
As for the students who made the social media posts, Laven said she realizes the university likely isn't going to release the punishment. If there was a "clear policy" for when a student makes such a racially charged video or for hate speech, she added, then people would know if the student was suspended, expelled or otherwise reprimanded.
"We're excited about the possible changes, though," Laven, who is a senior, said. However, she emphasized wanting to see a follow-up on the matters.
She said she has witnessed what her women of color friends have endured with "death threats and people hiding behind a computer" and making racist statements. Being a white woman, she said she hasn't had to confront such situations.
Bresciani said he heard from many others on campus, so he believes he can count on them in "working toward a campus community where all members will feel safe and valued. "
"Hate speech undermines our efforts to be an educational environment that is accessible, diverse, equitable and inclusive," he wrote.
Federal courts have upheld "hate speech" as a constitutional right, but punishment by institutions and businesses can still be carried out.
Bresciani's email listed resources for students regarding how to report incidents of bigotry and hate and ways to receive extra protection through campus escort services or calling campus police. It also listed offices where students could receive counseling or address other issues.