Langdon Street Incident: Statement by Lori Berquam, Dean of Students and Damon Williams, Vice Provost for Diversity

June 10, 2011

“The incident that occurred on Langdon Street yesterday — a Spider-Man doll being hung by its neck — is a reminder of the importance of considering both intention and impact in any given situation.

While we have been told by the students involved that this act was the result of poor judgment, rather than targeted oppression, the impact has rippled across our campus community.

Regardless of the intent, it symbolized a lynching — an act that is historically rooted in hate and oppression. The consequence of this seemingly harmless “joke” has left some students, staff and faculty feeling appalled and shocked.

We are first, last and always an educational institution. We are concerned about the effectiveness of our educational environment in helping students to understand, appreciate and celebrate our differences and to be sensitive to symbols of racism and oppression.

We ask that everyone play a role in the learning that should — and needs to — follow this incident. It is simply not enough to talk about respect, civility and awareness. Each of us has much to learn about what it means to be an active player in creating a safe environment for all.

We also do not want to engage in a cyclical pattern of negative events, followed by meaningful dialogues, and then return to business as usual. We are committed to looking at the issues raised by this incident and to making progress. Ever since this incident came to light, many of us have been immersed in conversations with students, faculty and staff who all feel similarly: we must do more to ensure a supportive and safe environment for each member of our community.

Incidents of this kind happen far too often, and we have to do more to help each member of our campus community understand the unintended implications of their actions and the power of symbols.

The chancellor and members of our administrative leadership team are committed to creating this type of educational environment, as are many of our faculty colleagues across campus.

The challenge is for us to find a more deliberate and effective approach to doing so, or to get students, and other members of our community, involved in learning opportunities such as Student SEED, the Intercultural Dialogue Program, many of the courses that fulfill the ethnic studies requirement, the Theatre for Social and Cultural Awareness, events put forward by the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives, Institute for Social Justice and Transformative Leadership, and others.

If anyone within our campus community feels threatened or unsafe as a result of this incident, please do not hesitate to contact the Dean of Students Office at 608-263-5700 and ask for a dean on call. University Health Services Counseling & Consultation Services at 608-265-5600 or the Multicultural Student Center at 608-262-4503 are also resources for addressing how this event has impacted us.”