Yonathan Ararso ’13
On the evening of Tuesday, Nov 6, 2012 the Hampden-Sydney campus witnessed a disturbing incident that will be permanently etched in the memory of many students. In reaction to the outcome of the 2012 presidential election, a large mob of students on fraternity circle gathered in front of the Minority Student Union (MSU) house expressing hateful sentiment and threatening the safety of the residents.
“I saw it from my place of residency on campus—the International House,” says James Lilly ‘14 who watched the commotion as it unfolded. “I walked with one of my friends to help move his Obama-sticker-covered car from the main street [on the circle] because we were concerned that it would be damaged by students.”
The two housemates then proceeded to the MSU house to congratulate their fellow Obama supporters on the President’s victory: “due to the position of our house, we had to pass Kappa Alpha (KA) to get to MSU,” adds fellow housemate Kiel Powell ‘14. “A massive crowd at KA was consuming alcohol and shouting a lot of hateful words. They yelled ‘F*** Obama!’; ‘F*** socialists!’”
According to Powell, on the final stretch, right before entering the MSU house, several students sitting on the front porch of Sigma Chi (ΣΧ) addressed him and his house mate directly. The students, according to Powell, assumed that he and his housemate were going into MSU to start a fight. “One said, ‘Yeah! Finally! Somebody is going to take it to those N******! Go kick their asses!’”
Though Lilly quickly returned back to his room to attend to some assignments, it wasn’t long before the increasing upheaval caught his attention once more: “I witnessed a large gathering of people (40+) which started at KA—and I’m not directly accusing KA—start shooting Roman candle fireworks from the roof of the their house.” According to Lilly the fireworks were sent off in multiple directions including the MSU house and the KA house itself.
In response, a handful of MSU residents including the president of the organization, David Coe ‘14, confronted the crowd of 50+ gathered at KA. “Not all members of the crowd were from KA,” notes Powell, “but many of them were.” Powell goes on to describe the confrontation between the two groups which included a brief moment of peaceful exchange between Coe and several representatives of the gathered students. However, the discussion ended and “a member of the mob shot fireworks at the MSU students narrowly missing.”
“I then witnessed the large group of people from the KA property form a semi-circle and start to shoot the fireworks toward the MSU group, the balls of fire and throw glass bottles going only a couple of feet from their heads. The whole time they were shooting remarks like “Kill them N******!” notes Lilly who was observing the incident from his house.
Shortly thereafter, Lilly and Powell alerted their black housemate Davonte Bradley ‘14 about the incident and decided to leave campus to safety. “I didn’t feel safe enough to leave the house,” says Bradley. “I heard the commotion and fireworks and felt like they might go to other places. Being so close to KA didn’t help, so we decided to leave.” The students fled to Farmville and found safety at the local McDonalds.
The entire community was notified about the incident via a campus-wide e-mail sent by President Howard at 10:50am the next morning. The president expressed his “disappoint[ment]with the students who participated in this harmful, senseless episode.” The e-mail was quickly followed by another one inviting the entire community to gather at 7:00pm at Snyder Hall to discuss the events from the prior night.
“I certainly believe it’s imperative to address the issue itself. But I also think it is just as imperative to offer moral support for the members of the co-culture victimized by prejudice,” Diego Velasco ‘14 notes after attending the town hall gathering. “As a college, we may be concerned about the kind of image projected by incidents of prejudice, but the fact is, we should not be reluctant to accept the irrefutable prejudice that some of our students still face on this campus. Unless leaders and members of this college do something to speak against it, prejudice will continue to be a reality for many members of this college.”
The incident follows several other ones in the school’s recent history including an episode after President Obama’s election in 2008 when a student hung a noose outside the freshman dorms (Whitehouse). Just a little over a month ago, a bathroom in the Venable basement was also vandalized and a hateful message that read “”F*** N******!” inscribed on the walls with shaving cream.
“I was upset and disappointed when I saw this,” comments Kerrington Shields ‘14 who reported the Venable incident. “I wondered why these people felt comfortable enough to do this. It made me realize that racism is real on this campus, and that it is something that has to be attacked head-on.”