The university's approach to racism
A Q&A with the Vice President for Student Affairs
Last month, an unidentified person placed a poster on campus supporting a hate group. Posters promoting the same group were also found on North Dakota State University’s campus. In light of recent happenings regarding racism in the country, one should be concerned as to how Minot State University protects against hate speech in order to maintain a conducive environment for education.
Kevin Harmon, vice president for student affairs, on behalf of Minot State University and with legal advice from the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office, provided insight on how Minot State intends to keep the campus hate-speech free.
Q: When and where was the poster found?
A: The posters were found on Saturday (Sept. 30) afternoon by a student who reported it to campus security. The posters had been placed in Old Main and the Student Center.
Q: How was the situation handled?
A: Campus Security removed all posters after a sweep of campus buildings.
Q: Is the university working toward determining the individual(s) who put the poster(s) up?
A: Campus Security was unable to locate the individuals involved in posting these posters on campus. It appears as if this was a coordinated effort by an outside group as the same posters were found on the campus of NDSU the same weekend.
Q: I understand there would be a public statement of some form. Would this statement address what could happen (repercussions) to any individual who promotes such on the campus? If yes, what are these sanctions?
A: This group did not use the process that we have on campus regarding distribution of materials. In the past, when we have had external groups on campus without permission or not following policy, they have been removed and banned from campus.
Q: What is to prevent students from engaging in hate speech?
A: Education is the best method to promote diversity and inclusion at our university. Hate speech, although harmful and objectionable, is still protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 4 of the N.D. Constitution. As a state institution, Minot State University must comply with the state and federal constitutions. At the same time, Minot State University has the obligation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act to make sure the campus is not a hostile environment on the basis of race or gender. To balance these potentially competing interests, the best solution is more speech rather than less. More education and dialogue instead of restricting certain speech.
Q: What is the university's responsibility in educating students on moral and ethical behaviors?
A: As an educational institution of higher learning, it is our place to provide an environment which is inclusive of all its members.
Q: What would it take for the university to have a stronger voice in standing up against hate speech?
A: Minot State University takes every reported incident seriously, and we attempt to use every incident as a teachable moment. We employ an interdisciplinary approach (student support services, counseling, wellness, Diversity Council) that supports our students in creating an inclusive environment.
Q: Given that students are encouraged to report any incidences or altercations they experience in order to get adequate rectification and support, where does MSU’s administration take initiative in responding or acting against such incidences? Does it always have to be student-initiated? I would assume there would be cases where the student does not want their identity known or does not want to report the situation in fear of further discrimination or does not want to be associated with the incident as a victim.
A: Minot State University takes every reported incident seriously and all reported incidents are investigated.
Q: There has been a lot of awareness created regarding Title IX, which is a very important issue to be addressed on our campus. There was a mandatory online course, and people in certain positions have been made mandated reporters. In light of that, why does this not exist for discriminatory speech/action? Is this something the university is working toward? If not, why?
A: Our Title IX training was mandated by the United States Department of Education as part of the settlement in a past Title IX case. Students, faculty, and staff have multiple ways to report concerns to university officials. In 2013, the MSU University Diversity Council introduced the Anti-Bias Form to report cases of bias, bigotry, and hate. The ICare Form may be found on the Current Students webpage which allows any member of our campus community to report any concerns anonymously. The Student Complaint Form may also be found on the Current Student webpage, or concerns may be directed to the Vice President of Student Affairs in person, email, or by phone.
Q: If a student (or group of students) engages in hate/discriminatory speech or action, what are the repercussions? How does the university handle such a situation?
A: The university will investigate reports and follow policies found in Minot State University’s Student Handbook.
Q: Finally, what could/should be done to eliminate discrimination in our university?
A: The university will continue to work through interdisciplinary means to provide educational opportunities that support an inclusive environment for all of our members. We will support our Diversity Council in developing appropriate learning opportunities that support diversity and inclusion. We will continue to value every student and employee on campus and continue to create policy that is not intimidated by racism.