For the two weeks that the University of Nevada, Reno spring semester has been in session, there have been a number of instances in which signs have been hung up or posted around campus that read “UNR protects racists.”
The first sign — a bed sheet with the words painted in black and red — appeared on Wednesday, Jan. 24, on the balcony of the Ansari Business Building facing north toward the Reynolds School of Journalism and the Joe Crowley Student Union. The sign was removed by the next day.
The second wave of signs appeared on Thursday, Feb. 1 as flyers posted on billboards, left on keyboards in computer labs and other locations on campus. The phrase “UNR protects racists” appeared next to a widely-circulated picture of UNR student Peter Cvjetanovic from the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last August. The words “#UNRBlackHistoryMonth” lined the bottom of the flyer.
Cvjetanovic’s participation at the rally sparked a movement at UNR, and many students began to question the university’s dedication to diversity. It also put a spotlight on incidents that happened in years prior and would depict the events to follow in a different light.
Just in the fall 2017 semester, the assistant director of the Latino Research Center resigned and publicly blamed the university’s attitude toward diversity, a UNR police officer joked about shooting an African-American student, swastikas were graffitied on campus and another UNR police officer was dressed as a negative caricature of UNR alum Colin Kaepernick during Halloween.
It is unclear who hung the sign and distributed the flyers, but many students are welcoming their presence on campus.
A UNR student with the Twitter handle @pulcher_african tweeted, “In case you missed this. we haven’t forgotten” and tagged UNR, ASUN and University Police Services in the tweet. It was accompanied by a picture of the original sign.
— Jolly St. Ho (@pulcher_african) January 24, 2018
Kevin McReynolds, the UNR student jokingly threatened by a UNR police officer, released a statement on the matter, calling the person or people who have distributed the signs “brave community member[s]”.
“The question of UNR’s complicity stems from their complacency in response to the outcry of minority students that continues to grow,” McReynolds said. “UNR students feel unsafe and unheard when their justified complaints go unanswered.”
McReynolds also praised the University of Alabama for dismissing a student after a video of her repeatedly saying the n-word went viral. The University of Alabama is a public university like UNR.
“The University of Alabama … chose to stand and protect their students and uphold public institutional values rather than give a reason as to why they could not take action,” McReynolds said.
McReynolds also said in his statement that he is meeting with university officials to talk about changing the culture on campus, but questions as to whether it will turn into action and the officials’ willingness to implement change remain.
McReynolds has met with President Marc Johnson on multiple occasions and said he is willing to accept criticism and talk about change. McReynolds also said he is starting to question Police Chief Adam Garcia’s commitment to change because “time after time his department is the cause of so much discomfort and embarrassment” to UNR.
Once again, McReynolds has called on Chief Diversity Officer Patricia Richard to hand her position to someone else.
“I believe her heart is in the right place, but she lacks professional credibility as well as cultural and religious understanding of the students that she is serving,” McReynolds said. “I believe it is time for her to step down and make way for a new Chief Diversity Officer to engage in real change.”
In a statement about the most recent signs, Richard said the university is holding onto its core values and understands that “people push back against those values, but we stand firm.”
“We acknowledge that our campus is facing challenges,” Richard said. “Like the country we live in, we all have much to do to realize a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture for all. We are committed to preparing students for global citizenship and recognize the critical importance of diversity.”
The university has taken a step toward addressing diversity issues on campus by introducing a new Hate and Bias hotline where students and faculty can report these types of incidents to university officials. During dialogues hosted by university organizations in the fall, many students requested a way to inform the university when these types of things were happening.
However, some students say there’s still more to be done. McReynolds encourages students to keep speaking out and the university to enact change.
“Minority students on UNR’s campus feel unsafe, unprotected, and we are speaking out,” McReynolds said.
If students don’t know how to get involved or don’t know their rights about expressing their disagreement, they can visit the newly-launched Student Expression, Rights and Responsibility website. More information on the website can be found at www.unr.edu/student-expression, nevadasagebrush.com and in this issue of the Nevada Sagebrush.
Madeline Purdue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @madelinepurdue.