Campus News

Racial slurs written on campus whiteboards, President Tracy Fitzsimmons addresses

Maddie Albornoz

Editor’s note: Story may be offensive to some readers.

On March 1 at 6:45 p.m., the president of Shenandoah University, Tracy Fitzsimmons, sent an email with the header: “THIS IS NOT OKAY.”

Many SU students were shocked to receive an email from Fitzsimmons and even more surprised to read that there would be a “campus conversation” that same night at 9 p.m. over an apparent “offensive, written, racial slur.”


Rhonda VanDyke Colby, Vice President for Student Life, addresses students and faculty. Photo: Maddie Albornoz

In the email, Fitzsimmons expressed that “Shenandoah University’s mission statement holds global citizenship as a central tenet. Global citizenship starts at home. Home is a place where we celebrate differences and support each other.”

Following that, she stated there had been incidents of blatant racism on campus and that they would not be tolerated. To ease the student bodies minds, she listed the procedure that had taken place in response to the incident.

The discussion attendance was so staggering that there was only enough room to stand. Deans and other high administrative officers were present. Attendees met in the lobby of this building in order to talk about a solution to the environment on campus.

The dialogue lasted roughly two hours, and the topics ranged from personal stories of racism to proposed solutions on campus. After asking a student to open the meeting with a short prayer, Fitzsimmons started the conversation by posing a question: “Why did you all come here tonight?”

The discussion quickly changed from a faculty-led lecture to a student-led conversation. With a small amount of mediation from the Dean of Byrd School of Business, Miles Davis, responses began to pour out that ranged from “I just want to know what happened,” to “I was the victim of racism on campus and I want to change the environment here.” It was clear that among the attendees there were many strong opinions. However, through the disagreement, there was a positive, open, energy that allowed everyone a chance to share their beliefs and feelings.

In response to the “I just want to know what happened question,” two different situations were addressed: First was an incident in Parker Hall that happened on Sunday night in which the message “Kill all n—–s” was written on a white board.

Later that night students walking past the building reported hearing similar slurs being yelled down from a window.

The second situation addressed was the protesting that happened in Downtown Winchester and on campus this week. Attendees were informed by an employee of the Winchester Police Department that the situation was being heavily investigated by the state police and that all law officials involved were working to promote peaceful protests and ensure that everyone knew the truth as soon as they did.

These answers launched the room into a discussion on race, police brutality, the symbolism of the confederate flag, and how these topics affect SU students. Through the discussion, the participants agreed that the primary way to reach a solution was through increased education and training in empathy.

About an hour and a half into the session a participant asked, “What now?” The participant implored the administration to take action in fixing the problem. The crowd was left with the message that to affect change they must live in a way that embodies it.

One participant finished the discussion with a call to action by saying, “This conversation does not end here; the only way to solve these issues is for us to continue talking about them. Keep having these conversations.”


11 replies »

  1. As a parent of a white student, I would hope that yes the conversations should continue, and those students who committed these acts be punished/expelled. Unfortunately behavior like this needs to be delt with or it will continue to grow. They know they will keep getting away with it if it not handled properly.


    • As a white, retired Conservatory Professor I am equally shocked and disappointed that any student would behave in such an ugly manner. However, expulsion should be the very last resort. Rather, I would urge the person be very carefully mentored, with required reading, group discussions, hours of community service, guided visits to the African-American Museum , the Holocaust Museum, etc. This person has possibly grown up in a very narrow, distorted, perhaps abusive environment, and needs deep intervention. Elizabeth Temple, Professor of Piano Emerita.


  2. Thanks for letting those of us who could not attend know how things went. I hope that the ‘Doah will be doing a follow-up that includes some of the student reactions, both to the hate message and to the forum. If the conversation is to continue in a productive fashion, it is important not to let these events and issues fade into the background.


  3. This is exactly what this country needs to take place in every city, town, county, etc. This is 2016 and things should be a lot better than what they are.


  4. As a former student-athlete, I have a suggestion….ITS CALLED AN ERASER, YOU FUCKING CRYBABIES.

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, kids, but after living outside the walls of the university for a couple years, its become pretty apparent that my feelings aren’t all I thought they were. In fact, NO ONE CARES about whether I get offended by other peoples’ stupid remarks. I used to think that if I was offended by something, that I had every right to cry and complain and demand the offender be punished in some way. (Perceived) equality was once the ultimate virtue in my life. I could get triggered and tell stories about my racist/sexist/hetro-normative oppressive experiences until the cows came home. Back then, I was easily offended. And so I was somebody. Or so I thought.

    Then I graduated. And I had to come to terms with reality, as well as the terrible and costly mistake it was to attend such a school when my parents couldn’t afford my tuition. It was then I had a moment of clarity. I realized that I wasn’t the center of the universe. It was truly a Galilean epiphany after being subjected to so much liberal academic brainwashing for so many years. For once, my destiny did not depend on how nice others were to me. I had the ability, and lo, RESPONSIBILITY, to make something significant of myself, for myself, by myself.

    So I joined the military as an officer and stopped being such a whiny little bitch all the time.

    You students are there right now for one purpose. To get an education and begin your professional careers. If you are unwilling or unable to do this, you are best advised to cut your losses and leave Shenandoah now. All this “discussion” about racism is a bunch of nonsense propagated by old baby boomers who voted in a collapsing economy years ago, and now need you to pay for their retirement via student loans and taxes.

    If you can’t handle dirty words and mean people, you will not survive in this world. So you might as well do yourself and everyone else a favor and jump off a bridge tonight. Please and thank you.




    • I totally agree with you. I think all of us regardless of our race have faced problems/issues in school and the work place. I recently ran into a lady who had spent 11years of her life in the Navy. She said and she was speaking about all races and genders that everyone should have 2 years of military experience to teach them respect and to learn to work as a team. When I thought of the people I know and I have met I can see where that would be a valuable experience. I also remember what my father used to say to me, which was basically the golden rule, “Treat everyone the way you would want to be treated.”


    • Dear Anonymous,
      So sorry you feel this way. You seem to be a very angry person–but beware..that can destroy you. I taught at Shenandoah for 53 years, and young people of all religions, races, capabilities, attitudes, sexual orientations, etc., etc., walked in and out of my studio daily–some thrived and some didn’t–I am no miracle worker–just there to help each student along his/her way.

      Yes, education has become much too expensive–our national priorities are really out of whack. Be assured my salary from SU at retirement one year ago was about half what many young people start with these days, but I don’t resent that–everything costs more now. Perhaps supporting and accessing the wisdom of your elders keeps our society in balance–believe me we’ve be there- done that –ALL OF IT !!

      Below is an essay I wrote which I hope you will read. Remember, my life began BEFORE WWII and the ugliness and hatred expressed in “dirty words” of that time fueled one of the most horrific events in our history — and these kinds of ugly events are still happening, so don’t mock those of us who believe that promoting kindness is important, and takes real courage.
      “POLITICALLY CORRECT” – what does this mean? The idea seems to be dividing our nation between “right” and “left”, “conservative” and “liberal.” Well, let’s take a look. Perhaps for “politically correct” we need to substitute “kindness,” “sensibility for the feelings of other people,” “respect for the heritage, culture, gender of others,” or simply “good manners.” If ugly, rude (i.e., “politically incorrect”) terms are offensive to our acquaintances, neighbors, colleagues, employees, why use them? Avoiding such terms is not a form of politically correct censorship; rather, it is smart, thoughtful, respectful and gracious. It is not about politics – it’s about basic human empathy. Diminishing others with rude name-calling is a strategy symptomatic of weakness and profound ignorance.
      I grew up in a community where the phrases “jewing down” (bargaining for a lower price, allegedly to the point of cheating) and “gyp” (from Gypsy, and also meaning to cheat) were commonly heard. As a child I had no idea the connection these words had to real individuals and groups of people. I was appalled as a young adult to discover the roots of these words (from somewhere deep in the ugliest part of European history) and the insulting, false implications they carried; words that could slip so easily into otherwise polite conversation. Now I “get it” and have no problem avoiding such terms…or severely reprimanding anyone who uses them.
      The shorthand speech that refers to anyone’s race, culture, religion, personal traits, etc., in a negative manner that is insulting, hurtful, mocking or belittling is simply wrong, whatever we call it. So, let’s stop thinking ”politically correct” or “incorrect” – let’s really think about respect for each other’s feelings –the basic respect to which we are all entitled.
      The Welsh writer Dylan Thomas said, “We are all colored something” and, in fact, we all have melanin in our skin (except albinos, who exist in EVERY race), and we all inherit a variety of physical traits as well as cultural, social or religious traditions from our ancestors. In other words, we are each part of many unique cultures, races or groups that can be stereotyped, and, thus labeled with a negative epithet. I am technically a “wasp” (white, anglo-saxon, protestant), but I most certainly do not subscribe to the politics or attitudes (whatever those might be) that some might assume to be those of other “wasps” !! I am also a “musician”, a university “professor”, a “retired person”, “female”, grew up on a farm from a long ancestry of “farmers”, “single”, have a mild physical “disability”, “white”, etc., etc. Any of these “categories” could carry a rude, stereotyping label cooked up by somebody, but NOT ONE of those stereotypes (even all of them together) could begin to tell you who I am. So DON’T LABEL ME — the simplistic assumptions each of those labels carries would be wrong.
      Rather, let’s look into each other’s eyes and LISTEN; hopefully, during those moments we can both begin to learn what is in the heart, mind and soul of the other, enabling each of us to have the right and privilege of claiming one’s own identity, while also respecting our varied human heritages.
      Labels, categories, groupings, etc., are essential attributes and tools of language and can be useful in describing ourselves and others. The problems arise when the use of labels to stereotype, denigrate, insult or mock any group or individual poisons our thinking, is offensive to the labeled, and fuels divisiveness, fear and hatred in our society, thus overriding and obscuring the reality and beauty of our shared humanity. Together we must find the courage and strength to maintain our personal language and public debate at a responsible level of thoughtful, well-informed discourse based upon understanding and respect for all people.
      Elizabeth A. Temple, SU Professor of Piano Emerita


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