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TU Works To Fight Hate And Bias

A #NotAtTU sign on Towson University's campus.
A #NotAtTU sign on Towson University's campus.
A #NotAtTU sign on Towson University's campus.
Credit WYPR
A #NotAtTU sign on Towson University's campus.

It’s graduation week at Towson University and the campus is crowded with proud families. It’s also filled with signs bearing the hashtag #NotAtTU -- part of an effort to educate students about policies for reporting incidents of hatred and bias.

It comes following an uproar over a racially charged incident on April 5th, between a white male student and Tracy Jones, a black female supervisor at Towson’s CLA Café. Jones said she asked the student to repeat his order, when he snarled “your kind of people don’t listen.” Jones said the student then threw his change over the counter at her.

“I’m just standing there like… are you really serious?” said Jones. “You know there’s still some racism out there but it’s more personal when it hits you. When it was all said and done I called my boss and he told me who to call to report it.

News of the incident spread quickly, leading to a rally in Freedom Square, near the center of campus, where students voiced their outrage and demanded changes. Students also took to twitter to complain that the administration had failed to punish racist incidents.

Meanwhile, the administration implemented measures to ensure the safety of workers in the café, including stationing campus police officers there. Jones says that made her feel safer.

In early May, the Student Government Association (SGA), held an event in the student union to promote positive discussion of ethnicity and explain how students should report incidents of hate or bias. Campus Police Chief Bernie Gerst attended the event, to show his support for the students – and, as he said: “let them know their police department is here for them and that we want them to feel safe in a welcoming and inclusive environment here.”

With community and officials being seen joining forces, the #NotAtTU campaign appeared to some as a direct response to the incident in the CLA. But SGA president Kurt Anderson says the plans have been in the works for a while. “We began this process in October,” he said, “and we were planning on launching it in January but certain random things happened that delayed the process. What we were going to do was wait till the fall to do a bigger campaign. Based on what happened we rushed the roll out.”

Anderson says the campaign is meant to promote equality within the community as well as provide information students can use to help prevent more incidents from occurring. He added that next semester will see “...a larger launch. There will be some promotional videos created. There will also be some teach-ins and workshops around it.”

Jones says all these moves have made a difference: “We feel like now, somebody cares they don’t just look at us as the people that fix our food and give us coffee and that’s it. Now we feel like we’re a part of Towson.”

She also says she doesn’t want to deal with the student at the heart of the April 5th incident: “Hopefully he will graduate and I don’t have to ever see him again.”

Graduation ceremonies continue through Friday.

Copyright 2016 WYPR - 88.1 FM Baltimore

Kevin Beliveau