Warren Wilson takes action on ‘hate crimes’

Paul Clark
Asheville Citizen Times

Warren Wilson College will enhance its on-campus lighting, building access and video surveillance, its president said Dec. 16 in response what officials there said was an investigation into “possible hate crimes.”

President Steve Solnick’s letter to the college students, faculty and staff outlined actions Warren Wilson plans to take in response to a series of demands presented by a group of students during a meeting of the campus community two weeks ago.

Those demands were in reaction to what the college said were possibly hate crimes.

In one incident, a computer belonging to a student of color was stolen and later found in pieces in a plastic bag outside campus public safety, according to an email college officials sent to the campus community Nov. 29. Another incident involved the theft of a laptop from the room of a transgender student.

In a third incident, a bag containing a student’s senior project was taken from a bathroom on campus and later found torn into pieces with a racial slur written on a piece of paper.

A separate email from Warren Wilson officials detailed a fourth incident involving a student of Native American descent. A paper was left in the student’s room with the word “Trump” on one side and the words “back to the rez” on the other side, according to the email.

“We continue to work to make Warren Wilson more inclusive and welcoming for all students,” Solnick said in his Dec. 16 message to the campus. He outlined steps the college will take to accomplish that goal, in light of recent incidents, steps that include the continued funding of the Black Students Union. Other student affinity groups that want to bring speakers to campus and stage events would be funded if they register and submit budget proposals that are approved, Solnick stated.

In February, the college will convene a group of students, faculty and staff “to consider revisions to the current college policies on hate crimes,” he said, “to reaffirm our zero tolerance policy toward hate crimes of any form.”

Students will be introduced to issues of “social stratification and social justice,” the president said. The college will search for mental health counselors of color and those trained to work with the transgender community, he said. The counselors would also work with students experiencing “trauma-related deportation” in light of uncertainty over President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy that provides a renewable two-year reprieve from deportation for some children of undocumented immigrant.

Solnick, who is departing in June to lead the Calhoun School in New York City, said he wants to leave the students’ demand for a chief diversity officer to the next president.

“However, as a step toward adding more diverse voices to the senior administration of the college,” he said, “I will launch an experiment in February of regularly convening an expanded group of faculty and administrators to meet together with (his administrative-level) cabinet as a working group on diversity and inclusion.” The product, to be delivered by April, will be program and structural initiatives, he said.

Solnick also said he will invite a local immigration attorney to talk to students about their concerns related to Obama’s DACA immigration policy.

The college is offering a reward for information related to the incidents.

Julie Ball of The Asheville Citizen-Times contributed to this report.