OSU Officials Address Racist Speech

Ohio State President Karen Holbrook is responding to apparent incidents of racism that occurred during the recently completed winter quarter. An anonymous letter disparaging blacks was distributed to dorm rooms in Columbus; and several students at a branch campus made internet postings that contained racially offensive material.

“Let’s face reality,” the unassigned letter begins, “Blacks on the average are not as smart as whites.” End quote. The letter was distributed to several hundred dorm rooms in January. The anonymous writer went on to recommend material that he or she said would support the letter’s theme. Graduate student Carla Jackson, treasurer of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Caucus, says she was disgusted but not surprised by its contents.

“I was a little taken aback because of the boldness sort of the boldness and cowardliness at the same time because the letter did not have a return address so it wasn’t like you could have any kind of dialogue between the person that disseminated these ideas and the people who were most affected by them,” said Jackson.

The sender was never identified. An OSU spokesperson says the university was required by postal regulations to deliver the letter, but sent its own letters of disclaimer afterward.

In what administrators say is an unrelated incident, several students at OSU’s Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster organized a group and created web pages titled “Oprah Winfrey is the Devil.” Institute director Stephen Nameth says one of the students added language to the web page that was derogatory to Blacks.

“The actual web director modified it a little bit and took some of the students’ names and gave them nicknames as officers of this “Oprah is the Devil” website and those names were very racist,” Nameth says. “All [the names] were related to African Americans and hate crimes associated with African Americans.”

Postings to the site included the “N” word, the “F” word and similar language. Nameth says about half of the 16 students involved did not realize their names were being misused until they began receiving hate mail and death threats. Because of that Nameth says the student who posted the material would be expelled.

This week university president Karen Holbrook addressed the incidents in an email to students and staff. She said the inflammatory messages may have been intended to create divisiveness but instead they’ve brought students together. Another official, Vice Provost for Minority Affairs Mac Stewart, says the university continues to help educate its members.

“Several programs have been held and some for the future whereby they’re talking about race relations, racism, and activities and programs that will try to enhance a better understand among different populations,” says Stewart.

But Danice Brown, a member of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Caucus said she’s disappointed she’s just now hearing from President Holbrook about the January incident. The Caucus and other student organizations are crafting a response to the anonymous letter and the web page.

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