African American law students at Gonzaga University are once again the targets of racism.
On Thursday, an African American student discovered a hate letter stuffed inside the student’s backpack, said Gonzaga President Edward Glynn, S.J.
Glynn said the incident, which occurred in the Gonzaga law library, followed reports by several other African American law students that they had received racially harassing telephone calls. The calls started April 9; the latest was received Thursday.
There are eight African American students enrolled in the law school. Gonzaga officials would not say how many had received harassing calls.
Law school Dean John Clute said he is angered by the latest round of racist behavior.
“I’m not a violent man,” Clute said after a Friday night press conference. “But if I were to come across whoever is responsible for this, I must say I would have some violent thoughts run through my head.”
Glynn said officials did not release information about the harassing calls earlier because the students who received the calls asked them not to. However, after the letter was found in the student’s backpack, students and school officials decided it was time to speak publicly.
School officials said they immediately notified the Spokane Police Department, Sheriff’s Department and the FBI after the discovery of the letter in the backpack.
Officials would not reveal specifics of the contents of the letter.
Glynn denounced the acts as deplorable. “We will not be intimidated in our efforts to diversify our faculty, staff and students,” he said.
It’s the third consecutive year that African American law students at Gonzaga have been targeted.
Four law students received hate letters and harassing telephone calls in April and May of 1995. In March of 1996, three more law students received racist letters, followed by calls and an incident of racist graffiti.
Students told Gonzaga officials that they didn’t want to go public with the incidents because final exams start at the end of the month and they did not want to be distracted from their studies.
“Going through law school is difficult,” said Spokane attorney Carl Maxey, who attended the press conference. “And the students didn’t want to draw any attention away from their studies. It’s difficult. They just want to be a part of the community.”
Last April, the university announced a $25,000 reward for anyone with information about racist letters, phone calls and graffiti directed at African American law students. The reward still stands.
Eastern Washington University Black Student Union President Mary McDaniel said she is angered that Gonzaga officials did not speak up sooner about the latest harassment.
“Why did they prolong this?” said McDaniel, who attended the press conference. “What safe havens are being provided for students? I know I don’t attend this university, but this is something that affects all African American students in this region.”
McDaniel said she plans to meet today with black student leaders from Gonzaga and Whitworth.
Glynn gave his assurances that the university is doing everything necessary to protect the students.
Clute said none of the students has ever been physically assaulted.
He said campus security has been increased around the law school, located in the east 600 block of Sharp Avenue.
Gonzaga officials said other African American students at the university have not been the target of such harassment.
School officials are asking anyone with information to call Crime Check at 456-2233 or Secret Witness at 327-5111.
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