By Barbara Young —
On Nov. 4 a moment of road-rage escalated into an act of racial hate that has left many University of Wisconsin–Stout students stunned, angry and wondering what we can do in the future.
According to Officer Spetz, a close-call traffic incident between a truck with two white males and a car with two girls, one Hispanic, one African American, occurred at the CVS intersection. Following the near accident the truck driver turned his vehicle around and followed the girls to a parking lot. The truck blocked the exit and the driver of the vehicle exited the truck. Upon approaching the woman’s car, the driver shouted at the two women in the car, making sexist and racist slurs.
After the truck driver had left the scene, the two women returned to their dorm where they contacted the police. The UW–Stout Bias Incident Team was notified. The team, made up of Joan Thomas, Barb Miller, Lisa Walter and Julie Miller, were notified of the incident and spent many hours with one of the victims and those close to her after the incident.
Through luck, the police found a Facebook post written by the truck’s passenger about the incident. The police contacted this man and were able to get contact information for the alleged abuser. The man confessed to committing the crime and was arrested. He has been charged with disorderly conduct with a hate crime enhancer, as there is currently no way for a hate crime to be charged individually in Wisconsin. It must be added on after an original crime has been committed.
Since the incident, both girls have left the Stout campus for the remainder of the semester and intend on transferring.
This incident was not heard about by the campus at large until an email stating, “An unfortunate incident occurred last week in which a UW–Stout African-American student experienced an alleged act of racial hate near campus,” was sent out on Nov. 10.
This delayed and underwhelming response to the incident angered many students and has sparked a movement across campus to ensure incidents such as this do not happen on campus or in the community.
On Monday, Nov. 17, the Bias Incident Response Team held a meeting in which students voiced their opinions on the way the case was handled and made known to students.
“The administration fell short a bit,” said Erik Pearl, a junior in Peace Studies.
“When you don’t give people details, people don’t care,” said senior Esuvat Mollel. “Give me details about what actually happened and then tell me the active measures the university is going to take.”
A follow-up to this meeting was held on the Terrace Wednesday, Nov. 19. About 100 students filled the seats to hear what had happened, express their frustration and hopefully learn what can be done moving forward. Emotions ran high for those close to the two victims, but a passion to move forward was strong in the group. The chancellor was in attendance and listened to the complaints and feelings of the students.
In a brief address he said, “When I first heard about this incident I reacted as a parent, not as a student. I’ve got two children about your age and one is still in school. I expect her to have an environment that is safe.”
Throughout the remainder of the semester various organizations will be holding meetings to try and find a solution to the attacks on campus. Stout students passionate about the proper handling of these events and about moving forward should attend future events and are welcome to join the UW–Stout Hate Crime Support Team on Facebook for updates.
“I had no idea how many people were impacted by this situation,” said Chancellor Meyer at the Terrace. “That’s why it’s important to be here. It sends a message.”