Metro

Worcester State University students to hold diversity forum after racial incident

Worcester State University students will hold a forum to address school diversity issues after officials said a poster defaced with a racial slur was found on campus earlier this month.

The forum is part of an effort driven mainly by students, but also administrators and faculty, to support diversity and inclusion at Worcester State in the wake of the incident, said Manasseh Konadu, a sophomore at Worcester State. A date has not yet been set for the forum.

“The administration is not sweeping this under the rug. We’re really facing it head on by listening to the voice of the students,” said Konadu, 19, during a phone interview Saturday. “People are looking not just at this incident but how we can make the university better as a whole.”

Advertisement

On Jan. 18, a poster with the message “Be part of something bigger than yourself” was defaced after the word “bigger” was changed into a “repugnant racial slur,” according to a school statement released Friday. The slur was aimed at African-Americans.

Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Students and a staff member found and removed the poster, which displayed the racist word for a few hours before it was discovered inside a residence hall, said Renae Lias Claffey, a university spokeswoman, in a phone interview Saturday afternoon.

Campus police have launched an investigation and in a e-mail sent to students, faculty, and staff the day the poster was found, school president Barry M. Maloney called on the university community to push back against hate. He urged anyone with information about the incident to contact university police.

“I ask everyone to stand up and speak out against hurtful, discriminatory words, and actions, whenever you encounter them,” Maloney wrote.

Two years ago, Maloney launched a campus diversity effort that has included addressing diversity in the university’s workforce by promoting more minority faculty andotherstaff, Lias Claffey said.

Advertisement

The university has also launched an interdisciplinary ethnic studies program for students that focuses on history and racial issues, she said.

Minority students make up about 26 percent of the 5,381 undergraduates who were enrolled at the university in the fall of 2016, Lias Claffey said. She said the enrollment figures are approximately the same for the current academic year.

One on-campus vandalism incident was characterized by racial bias in 2016, according to a university safety report published in October. There were no reported hate crimes in 2014 and 2015, the report said.

If a student is responsible for the racial slur earlier this month, that person could face disciplinary action including expulsion, Lias Claffey said.

Reports of racial slurs appearing on other college campuses have scared him, Konadu said, but he believes schools can help stamp out the problem by offering more education about the experiences of African-Americans and other minorities.

Advertisement

Konadu, who is African-American, said he was shocked to see an image of the defaced poster with the slur on Snapchat.

“People at an institution of higher education should know what that word means, and why it should not be used,” said Konadu, who is studying to become a college history professor and also working on a law degree.

The upcoming forum was spurred by the incident involving the racial slur, but organizers will encourage discussion on other issues, including how the university can better grapple with sexism, Konadu said.

“A lot of students are very upset and want to voice their ideas, and come to a place where they can have a real release,” Konadu said.

Lias Claffey said logistics for the forum are still being worked out, but it is expected to be held during the second week of February.

Konadu is also part of a campus panel made up of about 80 students who are organizing events throughout Black History Month in February, such as film screenings, lectures, and a poetry slam.

The university also will participate in the annual African-American Read-In Day on Feb. 7, a national event that coincides with Black History Month. The events were planned before the slur was discovered.

“With all this programming, we’re trying to encourage teaching about how it is to be African-American,” Konadu said.

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.