'Hate' fliers leave tensions strung tight
The bounds of free speech and discrimination have been put to the test at Clark College
Published: Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, October 20, 2010 17:10
In the following story, Clark Multicultural Retention Manager Felisciana Peralta is inappropriately attributed as the creator of the flier stating "Respect the Differences." The flier was actually created by the Washington Education Association. We at The Independent have apologized to Felisciana and apologize to the readers for the misinformation.
A flier featuring a swastika, contact information for the National Socialist Movement and rhetoric urging "Whites" to take pride in their race led to an explosion of debate shortly after a Clark College student and member of the organization distributed the leaflets on the main campus on Oct. 5.
The college master e-mail list was quickly flooded with discussion about the fliers. Accusations that President Bob Knight failed to condemn the fliers and reassure students of their safety at the campus were heavily discussed.
"We immediately went into action following notification of the flier distribution," said associate vice president of Human Resources Darcy Rourk.
The day after the fliers were distributed, Rourk sent an e-mail to the college master list. However, it wasn't enough for some staff.
"Where's Bob Knight?" psychology professor Debi Jenkins asked The Independent in her initial interview Wednesday. "Our president has said nothing; he has not said one word."
Rourk's mass e-mail read: "As an academic community, we uphold the constitutional right to freedom of speech. However, Clark also has policies and guidelines relating to the distribution of information at the college. In this instance, they were blatantly violated."
"Security was notified to remove all fliers from all Clark buildings and to try to identify where the fliers came from," Rourk wrote in the e-mail to The Independent. She also said the college does not condone the message of hate and that all the fliers had been destroyed.
On behalf of Knight, Rourk invited students and staff to attend an open-discussion forum on Oct. 18 to discuss the issue.
"We also understood that it would be important to create an opportunity for the entire college community to come together to discuss these events, as well as concerns or fears," said Rourk regarding Monday's forum.
Knight disputed the claims that he didn't react appropriately saying that as soon as Associated Students of Clark College President Samson Ramirez handed him a copy of the leaflet, an investigation was ordered to have all the fliers destroyed.
"We were stunned," Ramirez said. "The ASCC has asked to work with administration in coming up with a step-by-step plan that student government and administration can use to reach students and faculty alike, in the event something like this occurs again."
These efforts did little to soothe the anger and fear of those who felt victimized by the fliers, according to Jenkins. She felt Knight should have reached out to the campus the same day to reassure students and faculty that they are safe at Clark.
"To say nothing is to show a sign of approval for the message and that is inappropriate support for the students, staff and faculty of color in this situation," Jenkins explained.
She was not alone in feeling that the administration did not respond appropriately.
"I think, in all honesty, it was a situation that could have been handled differently," said Multicultural Retention manager Felisciana Peralta, "but I think the outcome is going to be positive. I think there is more awareness on campus. People are going to know their rights; people are going to know our policies."
Peralta took her own stand against the NSM fliers by creating fliers of her own, displaying the message: "Degrading, Racial, Ethnic, Sexist or Homophobic REMARKS NOT WELCOME HERE."
As the outcry for a public response from the administration grew louder, it began to catch the attention of local media.
On Oct. 14, The Columbian printed a story in which Jenkins shared similar comments about Knight's alleged lack of a public response to the issue. The same morning that the story ran, Jenkins, who is African-American, received a phone call from an anonymous woman who claimed to be embarrassed by the things Jenkins said to The Columbian about Knight and proceeded to repeatedly call her racial slurs and make threats to her safety.
It wasn't until after Jenkins received the phone call was she able to meet with Knight, as she had previously attempted shortly after being made aware of the fliers.
Jenkins said at this point she was no longer trying to share her concerns with Knight about his response, but about her concern for her own safety and the safety of the students.
"I feel like if my safety is in danger at this point then the students are vulnerable, and I don't want them to be vulnerable," Jenkins said about the call in another interview with The Independent.
"It is extremely unfortunate that Debi received the phone call, and the college will not tolerate hate phone calls," Knight said. "We don't know who made the phone call to Debi. We have attempted to trace the call but have been unsuccessful so far."
After visiting with Knight, Jenkins said she felt hope that Knight might handle a situation of this nature better in the future.
Clark student and local NSM member Nathan Goncalves came to The Independent and said he passed out the fliers to raise awareness of racial identity and of the NSM.
"I am aware of the constitution of the United States and the constitution of Washington state," Goncalves said. "I didn't feel like I was doing anything wrong."
"I don't have the rule book memorized; I've never seen one, but I don't mind showing it to them and let them look at it first," Goncalves said when he was made aware that passing out the fliers without ASCC approval was in violation of the college's policy.