SGA president: IUP racism may be institutional

Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Michael A. Driscoll, far right, joins demonstrators in front of the Stapleton Library, Jan. 22, 2016. Photo by Logan Hullinger.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Michael A. Driscoll, far right, joins demonstrators in front of the Stapleton Library, Jan. 22, 2016. Photo by Logan Hullinger.

By Logan Hullinger

INDIANA – Professors, administrators and students demonstrated daily against racism during the first week of the spring semester to remind the IUP campus community of a student’s racially tinged post that sparked a protest and headlines at the end of the fall term.

But Student Government Association President Vincent J. Lopez said the incident reflects more than bad behavior by one individual. The photo that appeared Dec. 9 on the video-messaging application Snapchat was a “straw that broke the camel’s back,” Lopez said in a Thursday interview in the new College of Humanities and Social Sciences building.

IUP Student Government Association President Vincent J. Lopez, Source: IUP website

IUP Student Government Association President Vincent J. Lopez, Source: IUP website

Lopez called for suspension of the student accused of posting the photo with a caption labeling a group of black students in the library as “monkeys.”

At a Monday organizational meeting for the rallies, an IUP administrator reported that the unidentified student “is going through judicial processing.” Other IUP students have named a female nursing undergraduate as the person who posted the offending Snapchat photo and caption. An effort to contact the student was unsuccessful.

But Lopez said the racial issue may be more institutional than individual.

“We have to look at what we’re doing wrong as an institution, such as recruitment, or where we’re targeting our campaign for admissions,” said Lopez, who said he is the first Latino elected SGA president. “We need to begin to look at what we offer at the university, such as degree programs and graduate school choices. Are we offering something that is available to all ethnicities, or are we targeting a certain population?”

Fall 2014 minority enrollment was 17 percent of the university’s total student body, according to its website.

Melanie D. Hildebrandt, an IUP assistant professor and an organizer of the new group Racial Justice Coalition for Change, said she hopes the rally sparks a broader movement on campus, as demonstrators gathered in front of Stapleton Library and displayed banners reading “Speak out against racism” and similar inscriptions.

IUP sociology professor Melanie D. Hildebrandt, McElhaney Hall, Jan. 18, 2016. Photo by David Loomis.

IUP sociology professor Melanie D. Hildebrandt, McElhaney Hall, Jan. 18, 2016. Photo by David Loomis.

“It just felt like it was time to speak up after the photo was released,” Hildebrandt said as she marched in the Oak Grove on Friday, the fourth of the week’s hour-long midday demonstrations. “We need to speak in favor of social and racial justice. We want to show our students that we’re here and to teach about the ongoing problem of racism. Instead of polarizing and going underground, we’re making the issue as public as possible.”

Group members are planning rallies on the first day of each month throughout the spring semester.

IUP President Michael A. Driscoll, who encouraged public discussion when the Snapchat photo sparked a furor on the campus last month, on Friday joined the demonstrators.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with them,” Driscoll said. “I’m happy to be out here with them. I feel like we need to do more.”

Lopez agreed.

“There’s a lot that has to be assessed,” he said.

Logan Hullinger, a sophomore journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania from Clarion, is a staff reporter for The HawkEye. He can be contacted at L.R.Hullinger@iup.edu.

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