by Madeline Purdue and Karolina Rivas
When the country watched as white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, no one could predict the implications it would have immediately and subsequently on the University of Nevada, Reno, campus. The events that occurred over the course of this semester spotlighted and ignited conversations on an issue many people face at the university — diversity.
Since the beginning of the semester, students and faculty have called for change from the administration on how they handle issues of diversity. For some, what the university has done to address the issues is enough, but others believe more can be done to support the diverse university population. In this report, The Nevada Sagebrush looks at the events spanning the semester, what the university has done in response — both immediately and over time — and what the university community wants to see done going forward.
The fall semester kicked off with a protest — two, actually.
The first happened on Friday, Aug. 11, at the University of Virginia. Members of white supremacist groups gathered to protest the removal of a Confederate statue from the campus. News and photos of the protest quickly went viral, which led to the identification of one of the participants as UNR student Peter Cvjetanovic — creating national attention for the university.
In the days following Charlottesville, UNR President Marc Johnson gave a news conference and sent out an email announcing that Cvjetanovic could not be expelled from the university or fired from his on-campus job — from which he would later resign.
Members of the community organized a counter-protest put on by the Reno-Sparks chapter of Black Lives Matter on Sunday, Aug. 27. More than 1,000 people gathered and marched downtown against the hateful acts seen in Charlottesville.
The ASUN Senate also held a special meeting for university members to speak about their thoughts and feelings on the Charlottesville protest and the university’s decision to keep Cvjetanovic on campus. They responded with creating the “I am the Real Nevada” T-shirt campaign. They ordered 2,000 shirts to hand out to students during the festivities that come with the beginning of the semester.
Three days after the Black Lives Matter march, the former Assistant to the Director of the Latino Research Center, Iris West, resigned from the university with a four-page letter detailing issues of diversity at UNR.
The letter accused President Marc Johnson of making “tone-deaf” decisions and that the administration has marginalized voices of color in favor of white women.
In late September, UNR graduate student Kevin McReynolds and friends were pulled over in a routine traffic stop by the University Police Services. While in conversation, an officer joked that he would shoot McReynolds “if things go sideways.” The entire incident was caught on body camera footage. UNRPD released the video of the traffic stop and put the offending officer on administrative leave while the Title IX office investigated the situation.
The investigation concluded on Thursday, Nov. 9, but the results remained confidential. However, McReynolds said he has seen the officer in question on campus since then.
Not long after the McReynolds incident, graffiti of swastikas was found in the Church Fine Arts building’s graffiti stairway. The stairway is dedicated to graffiti artwork, however the swastikas found on the morning of Friday, Oct. 13, were considered vandalism.
Cameras face the entrance to the stairwell, but the quality of the footage in addition to not knowing the exact time the stairway was tagged made it nearly impossible to find the perpetrator or perpetrators. It is likely that they will not be caught unless they come forward themselves.
Members of the community gathered the following Sunday to paint over the swastikas in the stairwell.
Two weeks later, a photo of university police officer Antonio Gutierrez, dressed as a caricature of Colin Kaepernick, circulated on social media. The costume included a red shirt resembling a 49ers jersey, painted beard, an afro wig, fake nose and a sign that reads, “Will stand for food.”
Some people were outraged while others showed support for the officer.
Moe Alazawi, manager of Wolf Fastop gas station on North Virginia Street, posted a message on one side of the gas station’s marquee stating “Officer Gutierrez standing for food is better than taking a knee.” On the other side of the sign, a photo of Calvin from the Calvin and Hobbes comic was seen urinating on the name “Kaepernick”.
About a week later, a hole was shot into the sign.
The university has been watched locally and nationally for the events that have occurred over the semester, and many students are voicing their concerns that the administration is not doing enough. Emails from President Johnson were sent to the university community addressing most of these issues as they happened, but this action has become too routine and “bureaucratic” for some. However, the administration has assured the community they are listening and are taking action.
“I think this has been a rough fall for the campus,” said UNR’s Chief Diversity Officer Patricia Richard. “We have been listening to students and faculty who have said that we need to take action. Yes, we recognize the difficulties the campus has.”
The spotlight has yet to waver from the university administration about what they are going to do about the diversity issues.
In President Johnson’s State of the University on Tuesday, Sept. 26, he announced that the university is actively seeking to hire more diverse faculty and is creating more diversity initiatives.
Richard confirmed the university is trying to create a more diverse university population.
“We are working to diversify our faculty,” Richard said. “We have launched an implicit bias training program and we will have trained almost 800 members of the search committees in implicit bias. In that way, we are listening to the students and our faculty.”
Richard has other plans going forward as well. She said that she has put together a diversity council to help with a strategic plan on how exactly to move forward with diversity initiatives, and has met with members of different organizations that represent diverse groups.
“I think that we will be working on a strategic plan on a diversity plan for the campus,” Richard said. “We have not had that in the past and to coordinate all the efforts and be transparent about it. We will be working on that in spring semester, so we’re really excited about it.”
University Police Services has also changed the way they do things after incidents involving university officers occurred twice this semester.
According to Police Chief Adam Garcia, the University Police Services has set high standards of professional conduct that personnel will be required to follow.
“I am committed to implement changes to prevent these types of incidents in the future, including supervisor leadership training to include zero tolerance of abusive language, department-wide cultural competency training, a change in body cam video review policy, and aggressive diversity recruitment […],” Garcia said.
ASUN has also been trying to help solve these issues by creating opportunities for the community to talk about these situations.
On Tuesday, Nov. 14, ASUN and the UNRPD hosted a Conversation with the Police at the Blind Onion in the Joe Crowley Student Union. Members of the community were invited to directly ask Chief Garcia and the members of the police force questions related to campus safety and the events of the semester.
The ASUN Senate also hosted a special meeting — similar to the one they held after the Charlottesville protests — on Wednesday, Dec. 6. Students talked about the things they wanted to see done by the university — including more discussions. McReynolds spoke at the meeting and called for the administration to prioritize safety for all students.
“I think as a campus we have a duty to the people on this campus to make safety a priority for all people, whether it’s minorities or anyone else.”
Full coverage of the special meeting can be found in the Senate Recap article on page A2 and online.
WHY THIS IS HAPPENING
The events of this semester have led to many questions, but one seems to come up more than others — why does this keep happening?
Blane Harding, the former director for The Center, Every Student, Every Story, said the issues UNR faces also happen on other campuses.
“Most universities around the country have a diversity issue,” Harding said. “Some universities are taking steps to really address it, some universities are thinking of taking steps, but they really don’t know what to do and some universities aren’t doing anything.”
Harding also believes UNR’s campus is reflective of a national attitude toward diversity.
“I think the reason it’s just gotten worse is that it’s just you know reflective of what’s happening across the country,” Harding said. “I think the campus is just a reflection of what’s happening in society.”
While some people welcome the dialogues that have been created because of these events, Harding has different feelings on them.
“They think that dialogue is actually going to lead to some conclusions,” Harding said. “But unless you’re addressing the institutional systemic problems that exist on campus, then the dialogues don’t mean anything.”
These systemic issues include low funding for diverse organizations on campus — such as the LRC and The Center. It also includes a campus culture that doesn’t prioritize diversity and people in charge with little to no experience on how to address diversity issues when they arise.
“It’s a shame that from all the Latinos that have passed and people of color that have been at the university in positions of leadership, they all end up finding a better place than UNR,” West said. “I think that says tons about the environment in which they have to work.”
McReynolds believes the problem is the culture the campus has toward diversity, and the lack of consequences for the perpetrators of hateful acts.
“The culture is if you do something discrimination wise, nothing happens,” McReynolds said. “And I think that that’s the thing — people realize they won’t get in trouble if they say something to somebody, and they know it’s wrong.”
McReynolds said these situations have been happening on campus for a while, but the university didn’t acknowledge it until it was in the open.
“It took this campus to see a video of what happened to me in order to take the necessary steps to try and address the situation,” he said. “They were finally forced to talk about something that they weren’t comfortable talking about.”
Another systemic issue these people see is the fact that Richard holds the position as Chief Diversity Officer despite not having a background in diversity.
“The fact that there’s a person that is the Chief of Diversity with no experience, no knowledge, no history of doing anything regarding diversity, and yet is lauded by the president as the most adequate person for that job — and she’s doing two other jobs on top of that — shows that there’s no real interest in doing something serious,” West said.
Richard holds three positions at the university — Chief of Staff, Assistant Vice President, and Chief Diversity Officer.
However, Richard does not see her job as three.
“They’re really all one position,” Richard said. “I know they’re three different titles. The Chief of Staff is a position that the president uses me to handle special projects and right now diversity is at the forefront of the university so that is my chief of staff position. Chief Diversity Officer is the top priority. One of the reasons the president wanted me to take the Chief Diversity Officer is because we meet so frequently and this way it stays at a top level while we are working across the campus. It takes everybody across the campus to be engaged.”
McReynolds says that her multiple roles are reflective of the university’s commitment to diversity.
“What this campus shows is that minorities are worth one-third of their time,” McReynolds said at the special Senate meeting. “[Richard] has three jobs. I’m not saying she needs to be fired, I’m just saying that she needs to pick one … You signal to all the students that are minorities that we don’t matter to you, we’re worth one-third of your time.”
McReynolds called for a nationwide search to find someone with more experience — saying that if the university can look nationally to recruit athletes, it can put the same amount of effort into finding a Chief Diversity Officer.
“If she’s the best we come up with, she’s the best we come up with,” he said. “But I think there needs to be a real effort.”
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
There are different things the university community has called for in order to address these situations. One thing that can be agreed on is that the response needs to be improved.
“As it gets worse, that’s really the time that the institution needs to step up,” Harding said. “It’s really the time we need to actually take a look at how we do things and how we address things and what systems we have in place to address these concerns and issues that we know basically what they are.”
McReynolds agrees that things need to improve on campus.
“Every time that one of these incidents happen, the way the school handles it, it erodes that trust that is there,” McReynolds said. “They don’t handle the situation right.”
He suggests that the university implements a reporting system similar to the one in place for sexual assault.
“If a sexual assault is reported on this campus, there is a clear pathway to reporting it and how it gets handled — but with diversity, it’s not like that at all,” McReynolds said. “I think that’s a problem, and I think there’s a way to handle it moving forward.”
McReynolds is helping to create more diversity on campus. He is working to create a foundation that will give a scholarship to a student of color to work at University Police Services while pursuing a degree in criminal justice.
“I think that the UNRPD needs to add African Americans and more minorities and more training,” he said. “I think as this campus looks forward and we move past these things that have happened so far this semester, we have a duty to students. Right now, UNR is not a safe campus.”
McReynolds would also like to see a Chief Diversity Officer in every department so that all students have a person to go to.
Harding did not see enough change university-wide in his former position as The Center director and decided to change his role at the university.
“I don’t really have a lot of faith in terms of those that are in charge of diversity, so I don’t really want to be involved on a campus-wide basis anymore,” he said. “I took myself off the five diversity committees I was on because we sat around tables and talked. But I never really saw anything to come out of those meetings.”
Instead, he is focusing on helping the College of Science — where he now teaches African American history — become more diverse. He is helping create a diverse course the College of Science can teach and is working on a program that helps first-generation students succeed.
At the special Senate meeting, students called for the university to take more action. One action they did not want to see anymore is the emails from President Johnson addressing these situations. Harding said other students have come to him with similar feelings.
“Quite frankly they’re tired of it. They want something to actually happen. They want something to be put in place. They want the university to put their dollars where they know that the issues and concerns are.”
Going into the next semester, students are going to be looking for change from the university administration and fewer incidents involving diversity.
The university students and organizations have held numerous events with opportunities for the university community to speak their mind and share their ideas.
“My hope is that they’re listening and they’re willing to have these conversations and not just willing to have the conversations but create change from it,” McReynolds said.
Richard mentioned that she — along with other university members — are putting together a strategic plan next semester in hopes of moving on from these events and into a more diverse campus.
Students will be looking for action.
“I think it’s time for enough sorrys,” McReynolds said. “We’re past the point of sorry.”
Coverage around these events and more can be found online at nevadasagebrush.com.
Madeline Purdue and Karolina Rivas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.