Saturday 20th September 2014,
The Transcript

OWU community discusses racial incidents on campus

Staff February 1, 2013 News No Comments

By Spenser Hickey
Assistant Copy Editor

On his first day of teaching at OWU in 1989, Professor Emmanuel Twesigye, an Anglican from Uganda, found a swastika chalked onto the outside door to his office.

It was one of several experiences with racism he shared after his Jan. 21 lecture on Martin Luther King’s dream of racial harmony and its connection to the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.

The most severe incidents mentioned by Twesigye and University Chaplain Jon Powers included the burning of a cross on campus in 1988, harassment of international students during the First Gulf War and what Powers considered a racially-motivated fight between white and African-American students in 2004.

In 1988, Powers’s first year as chaplain, a cross belonging to Sigma Chi was stolen, placed on the lawn in front of Slocum Hall and burned.

While the act may have only been motivated by inter-fraternity rivalry, the message it sent to the African-American community was clear. The burning cross was used by the Klu Klux Klan to show their presence, particularly during the Civil Rights Movement, and seeing it on campus caused fear and outrage, Powers said.

A letter to the editor from “concerned African-American students” following the incident said that their dreams for a unified campus “were shattered.”

After the first Gulf War began in 1991, Powers said Pakistani students had bottles thrown at them as they walked down Sandusky Street and were harassed with shouts such as, “Go home, sand n***er.”

Powers said he didn’t know who was responsible for the harassment, but believed it to be Delaware residents, not OWU students.

A 1991 Transcript article mentioned the verbal harassment, but not whether bottles were thrown.

Shahzad Khan, then-president of Horizons International, and Ann Quillen, the director of Foreign Student Services, said in the article that seven or eight students had been victims of verbal harassment. Mughees Minhas, the prayer leader for Tauheed at the time, was quoted saying he’d heard a girl was apparently harassed by “a townie.”

The events leading up to a violent altercation Powers described as “a fist fight” outside the House of Black Culture in 2004, and what role racism may have played in them, were disputed by the two sides.

Jeff Van Schaick, a witness to the fight–which involved three of his fraternity brothers –said race played no role.
Tommy Gunn, an African-American Columbus State University student visiting OWU at the time, said that the incident was “racially motivated, 100 percent.”

Cliff Williams, president of the Student Union on Black Awareness (SUBA), said the white Sigma Alpha Epsilon members used racial epithets toward him and Gunn.

Several months after the incident, two of the three white students involved in the altercation were disciplined by a university judiciary. An appeals board reduced the punishments, prompting SUBA to distribute fliers in protest.
The next day, a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon threatened to burn down the House of Black Culture and was arrested and later convicted of “aggravated menacing” by the Delaware Police Department on a menacing charge, which he was later convicted of.

SUBA members then held a silent protest on the JAYwalk, passing a petition outlining steps they wanted the university to take regarding diversity on campus.

The protest came a day after then-President Thomas Huddleston announced via a campus-wide email that he would be creating a Commission on Racial and Cultural Diversity.

At last week’s discussion, Twesigye mentioned several incidents in his own life that didn’t take place at Ohio Wesleyan and described more subtle forms of prejudice he encounters regularly on campus.

Several students, he said, have assumed he is under-qualified and only received his position due to Affirmative Action.

He said one student expressed confusion as to why Twesigye’s photo was at the back of a book he was reading, not believing that Twesigye himself had written it.

When Twesigye was studying at Vanderbilt, University in Nashville, Tenn., a professor refused to give him a syllabus, saying he wasn’t qualified to take the class.

Twesigye went to the dean and found out that the professor had never taught an African-American student.

Twesigye was able to stay in the course and passed, but said he avoided taking other classes with that professor.

Twesigye also studied at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where Dean John Holmes told him to avoid nearby communities for fear that he could be lynched.

“I was coming from a different tradition, so to find that there were people who were hateful enough to want to lynch me because I was black–that was frightening,” Twesigye said.

Senior Nurul Islam said he regularly receives increased screening at airports due to his Muslim faith. He said he responds to such treatment with “a smile,” hoping that a positive impression will change how Muslims are viewed and treated.

Powers said similar profiling occurs frequently in Delaware, as African-American students are far more likely to be watched by store employees for potential shoplifting.

“The more subtle things that break my heart are the way that some of our students of color are mistreated,” he said.
Twesigye said he’d heard of this profiling from students, but didn’t believe it until he tested it by entering a store without a cart and waiting for an employee to see him.

Soon enough, began to follow Twesigye as he walked between the aisles.

“I took him through the whole store,” Twesigye said with a laugh.

Mark Matthews, a Delaware resident who attended Twesigye’s lecture, said he thinks profiling in airports is the result of official policies.

“Right now there’s a program that has certain criteria, and if you meet that criteria you’re going to get profiled,” Matthews said. “(The) only way that you’re going to change that is for you to be in a position where you can make policy.”

Twesigye said that while education is important, he thinks being able to change such policies is also necessary.
“These laws, and the policies, are the keys to that kind of integration,” he said. “If (this generation keeps) up the good work, the future may be brighter than the past.”

Despite a history of racial discrimination and violence, Delaware has also been home to some notable Black history figures.

Despite a history of racial discrimination and violence, Delaware has also been home to some notable Black history figures.

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