Salisbury University's past of racism and its road to inclusion

Updated: Mar 8

Throughout the years, Salisbury University has experienced a number of racially motivated crimes on its campus.


The most recent injustice of racist graffiti strewn throughout campus has brought these issues back to light and leaves students and the community to look to university officials for solutions.


New statistics show there are currently 1,400 students who identify as African American, making up 16% of the student population. / Emma Reider Image

It comes to no surprise, however, that there has been an atmosphere of conflict between the SU students and staff.


Former President Dr. Janet Dudley-Eshbach exemplifies this divide through a past Facebook post in 2007 in which she is pointing a stick toward her daughter and a Mexican man with the caption, “Beat off the Mexicans because they were constantly flirting with my daughter.”


Although she claimed it to be for humorous purposes, Dudley-Eshbach deliberately posted a racially offensive ideal, one that she is subsequently promoting onto the student body. The lack of reprimanding for her actions exemplifies the extent to which xenophobic ideals have influenced SU culture. Dr. Dudley-Eshbach is currently a professor at SU and teaches multiple Spanish courses.


Dudley-Eshbach has since apologized for the Facebook post.


As time has progressed, the staff of the university has not been excluded from these hate crimes, as shown through the actions against Dr. James King. In August of 2008, the professor of English at SU discovered that a racial slur had been written across a sign at his place of residence supporting previous President Barack Obama.


More recently in 2016, Blackwell Library experienced a similar phenomenon of racially motivated graffiti which portrayed the lynching of a crying stick figure with the caption “#whitepower” underneath.


Although it was later revealed to be committed by African American students in an attempt to raise awareness of racial injustices, the resulting policy changes issued by Dudley-Eshbach have shown to have little effect on the occurrence of such crimes.


To avoid the repetition of these atrocities, current SU President Dr. Charles Wight has begun to implement a variety of actions within the campus and surrounding community.


Through his formation of the president's task force on diversity and inclusion, he hopes that students will feel more open to discuss their grievances and find solutions that conform to all groups.


Wight also plans to expand the university staff through the hiring of a chief diversity officer, and the university is actively interviewing candidates for this position. Additionally, current and future staff must undergo training sessions on the expansion of diversity and inclusion.


Wight’s Chief of Staff Eli Modlin divulged into further goals of the university.


“The top priority and primary concern of this president and administration is the safety and security of our campus community,” Modlin said.


Modlin also highlighted that one of the ways the university plans to execute this is through moving the Office of Diversity & Inclusion into the president's office. According to Modlin, this addition has already produced positive results.


“[The Office of Diversity & Inclusion] allows us to streamline processes and make additional resources available to the student body," Modlin said. "This then allowed us to fully staff and operate the center for Equity, Justice and Inclusion that is now located in Blackwell Hall.”


Other measures taken by Wight include the opening of his office hours to all students and staff and the expansion of his website to include ways to contact him to arrange a meeting.


Another feature of the website is a "parent portal" implemented last year, in which parents of students have the ability to view updates on university actions and communicate during emergency situations occurring on campus.


In regard to the safety of students, additional security measures have been placed throughout the university by the SU Police Department. The FBI, Maryland State Police and Wicomico Police have also implemented security tactics throughout the community, though they have not been released to the general public, to ensure the continued safety of the campus.


Wight has also implemented quarterly university town halls in which a different group of shared governance is gathered. The first town hall was one held with SU's Student Government Association, and the upcoming meeting will be with the Faculty Senate.


This event is open to SU students, and Modlin encourages members of the general community have the ability to voice their concerns and issues.


Modlin has an optimistic outlook for the future of SU's campus, and he feels that the university is in good hands.


“Dr. Wight came to this campus and made it abundantly clear that diversity and inclusion is a priority of his administration," Modlin said. "He has emphasized publicly and privately that it is important that students are not only are safe on this campus, but that they feel safe and feel like they belong within our campus community.”


Though Modlin feels the actions taken have already shaped the campus and surrounding community in many ways, he is aware there is still much more work to do to guarantee the rights and safety of multicultural students.


In an interview with local news, Wight emphasized the hate crimes committed on the campus represent xenophobic ideals that have no place in not only our campus, but within any faction of society.


Modlin sheds light on his hopes for the future of the university moving forward.


“The hope is that we do a better job and work with students, faculty and staff across the campus community to create a climate and a culture that emphasizes that this is not who we are, and this type of behavior is unacceptable on our campus,” Modlin said.


If you would like to meet with Wight, his office hours are the fourth Wednesday of each month from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., or you can reach him through email to schedule an appointment time at tfhajir@salisbury.edu.



By STEPHANIE RIVERA

Staff writer

Featured image by Emma Reider Images.

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