Editor’s note: This article was first published on May 2, 2017. On May 21, 2017, edits were made to the headline and to factual information in the body of the article. A previous draft of this article misreported the date of the incident. The identity of the student involved in the incident has not been revealed, but it has been publicized that the student was a student-athlete on the baseball team. This article has been edited to include that information. A link to the Vitae piece, which was used as a primary source in this article, has been included here and in the second paragraph of the text below. The Collegian regrets these errors.

Further information about the incident outlined in this article is available in a Letter to the Editor, published on May 21, 2017. To read the Letter to the Editor, click here.

By Elizabeth Magno | Chief Copy Editor

The incident raises the question of how efficient and effective BIRT reports are. (Courtesy of Flickr)

The incident raises the question of how efficient and effective BIRT reports are. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Saint Mary’s College has dealt with its share of instances that conflict with the college’s core values.

During the first week of March, a bias incident occurred between Associate Professor Raina León and a member of the baseball team. Detailed in her essay titled “Don’t Let Them Steal Your Joy,” León wrote of her experience where a baseball player delivered a racially obscene remark; “That’s when I heard it. One word. The most toxic word. I have been called it before but not for many years. N*****.” The instance happened when León was retrieving books from her car in a campus parking lot.

Further describing the event, León wrote: “Though the epithet came from behind me, it was clearly directed at me. I was the only black person there – a lone woman in an isolated parking lot. I don’t recall hearing them say another word. I do know they were campus athletes wearing team attire.” Shortly after, León submitted an incident report to the Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT).

After providing an account as to how the event unfolded, León continued her essay by describing how she felt after the incident, and how she responded after filing a BIRT report. She also continued her discussion on color and racial discrimination.

In light of the incident, the College responded one week after León’s essay was published on Vitae—a part of the well-known Chronicle of Higher Education. The response consisted of a school-wide e-mail sent out by President James Donahue. President Donahue stated in the e-mail that “investigations began and continue” by Public Safety. He also provided that the individual directly responsible for “hurling the epithet” has yet to be identified. President Donahue offered further information in his e-mail: “College Athletics is one of select departments on campus that will be working with the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) to complete diversity workshops designed specifically to raise the level of awareness and inclusion in a manner most appropriate for that unit.”

President Donahue’s e-mail concluded with remarks towards the “uninterrupted” presence of racism and bias in society, and “regrettably among us.” He said, “I ask you to support and embrace our collective efforts to become the Catholic and Lasallian community we aspire to be. Only by doing so, will we enable inclusion, equity, and respect for all persons to become a genuine reality at Saint Mary’s.”

To supplement the e-mail sent out by President Donahue, CDO Tomas Gomez-Arias also provided feedback. “There have been interventions with the team we believe was most closely related to the incident already,” he said. “We are assessing what are the existing workshops for athletes, coaches, and staff in Athletics; matching them against learning outcomes derived from the Organizational Development Model of Inclusion framework we are using to organize our equity and inclusion efforts at Saint Mary’s; and identifying what new workshops are appropriate.” Gomez-Arias anticipates that new workshops will be starting in the coming fall semester.

Commenting on the College’s response, Gomez-Arias stated, “[BIRT’s] initial focus was on the safety of Professor León, and the investigation by Public Safety of who the perpetrators might be, leaving educational or disciplinary interventions until we had more clarity on who had been involved.” He also added: “We could have put an earlier emphasis on the educational piece. Better communication with Professor León could have helped us understand that urgency.”

Other individuals from the College have also given feedback. Professor Claude Malary —who teaches in the World Languages and Culture department —provided feedback on the situation: “My initial reaction was mixed. On the one hand, I was shocked that something so stereotypically, so grotesquely racist happened to her on this campus. Usually, racist incidents here are more subtle, more borderline, more ‘civilized’…On the other hand, I was concerned that the circumstances made it such that the culprit would never be identified with any clarity. I was also concerned that an often motley group, called ‘athletes,’ might be made to pay for the deed of one individual.”

Malary also spoke on León’s essay; “I thought Raina’s essay maximized what the incident could have yielded. It’s a testament to the power of words, to the power of the writer.”

Professor Cynthia Ganote—who has taught Jan Term, Collegiate Seminar, and Ethnic Studies courses—also commented on the incident: “My first reaction was one of compassion and empathy for Professor León.” Ganote noted, “I was surprised at the overt nature of the racism, but I was not surprised that there was racism on campus.”

When discussing the College’s recent attempts to bridge the gap between minority groups and the community, Ganote stated, “When a place is really serious about the rules and systemic racism, the obvious saying is ‘this isn’t acceptable in our community.’ What is difficult then is getting the structures and the culture to change.” Ganote also acknowledged the College’s efforts by stating, “We have a duty to not harm others in our community. We have to hold people accountable for what they say and what they do, and I see the university trying to change that.”

Jacob Turnrose was a contributor for this article. He interviewed Professor Cynthia Ganote for comments.

This article has 1 comment

  1. To hear this and other incidents happening in St Mary’s College makes me doubt the decision I made in sending my daughter to this partícular school. A lot of what goes on within the school ground goes against the Catholic Religion. This is a private school any parent would think that their son or daughter would be getting the education they are paying for. The believed all they tell you in orientation sadly it is not the full story only the nice scenic views they forget to mention the alleys.

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