“It was in 2010 after leaving my 8 p.m. class during the winter I had to walk to the near by [sic] bus stop on campus. As I stood there alone patiently waiting I saw a pickup truck coming up the street. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary UNTIL it got closer and I began hearing several white males shout “F—- you N——-, I’ll kill you
N——-.” (Over and over) They seemed to find joy in the fear on my face, yet by the grace of God they kept driving. I was definitely scared for my life at that moment. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
That is just one of many stories of racial aggressions reported by Purdue students and alumni. This story was one of 43 posted to the website ShareYourNarrative.wordpress.com. Most of the users posted their stories anonymously, but identified themselves by major, year and racial identity. An African-American alumnus from the College of Liberal Arts posted that first story.
A Black fifth-year senior wrote:
“Understand that it’s not the overt racism that weighs on you the most. Those are instances, moments in time. It’s the ever-present racial insensitivity. It’s not the people screaming ‘N——-s!’ at you from a truck on State Street, it’s knowing that no one cares.”
The stories continue. A Chinese graduate student in the College of Pharmacy reported people in line with her made slanted-eye gestures at her. She also reported hearing “Ching-chong, ching-chong” from nearby.
On Nov. 17, a printed copy of these stories, along with 73 pages of screenshots of racially insensitive language posted on Twitter, Yik-Yak, and other social media sites, was delivered to university president Mitch Daniels’ desk. The book, “How Many More Fires,” came in at 105 pages total, counting the introduction and title pages and a list of 13 “demanded actions.”
It was signed at the bottom by “Concerned Purdue Student Body Members.”
Kirsten Holston, a Purdue undergrad, was interviewed by the New York Times during its coverage of the early days of the protests on campus. Holston, one of the leading members of the student group, said the events at the University of Missouri served as an impetus for their own protest.
“Essentially, the idea is that we saw what was going on at Mizzou and we wanted to show them that we were in support of what they were doing, and we also kind of sought a connection between our experiences here at Purdue and the things they were talking about ,” Holston said.
In addition to that, Holston said Daniels sent an email to the Purdue community which said there were no racial issues on campus. The protestors sought to change that view of things, and asked that he retract his statement that Purdue was in “proud contrast to the environments that appear to prevail at places like Missouri or Yale.”
Holston said representatives from their group were granted a sit-down meeting with Daniels, where the book was delivered, and a time to voice their concerns.
“It [the meeting] was tense,” Holston said. “There were things that we agreed on, and there were things that weren’t agreed on and then there were things he said he had to look into.”
The first “demanded action” was that Daniels rewrite his email to the campus to address what Holston called racial hostility. He denied the request.
Among the other twelve actions demanded was that Purdue create a required racial awareness curriculum for all members of the Purdue student body and staff.
Locally, the University of Indianapolis has taken a proactive step in terms of upholding diversity. According to Robert Manuel, president of UIndy, there have been 37 meetings on diversity since he assumed office. These meetings have included students, professors, university trustees and alumni.
“These conversations are important, because they prevent issues from becoming a boiling point,” Manuel said.
With students from over fifty countries, Manuel said one of the university’s goals remains creating culturally competent students. In order to continue developing the conversation, he said his office is creating a university wide task force which will invite representatives from all of the school’s departments and student organizations.
IUPUI’s Office of Diversity hosted a group discussion reacting to the Mizzou protests just a few days before the meeting between Daniels and the concerned Purdue students.
The president of Martin University declined to comment.
President Daniels could not be reached for an interview in time for the publication of this article, despite repeated phone calls and emails.