Colgate’s Black Students ‘Angry, Sad, Confused’ In Aftermath of Racial Profiling Incident

(Video by Brandon Alexander, ISO)

A Black male student walked through the campus of a central New York college Monday, May 1, at around 8 p.m. He was carrying a glue gun as he headed into the student center to work on a class project, but another student called school’s police to report he appeared to have a gun. An alert was issued to Colgate University students about a “dangerous situation.”

Soon, rumors began flying that there was not one alleged shooter but two and the other was wearing an orange hoodie. That the man was shirtless. That shots were fired in the science library and in the language and education building. That a Black man was suicidal and had ended his life in downtown Hamilton, N.Y.

But not a single one of those reports was true.

“Every single Black man — there are few — on campus feared … for their own life in being mistaken for this ‘active shooter,'” student Tyler Maxie said.

As the campus was placed on lockdown, some students monitored police scanners and checked in on one another. Some barricaded themselves in their rooms with the lights off as photos of a SWAT team’s presence on campus circulated on social media.

The Colgate Campus Safety Department called in local law enforcement and, after approximately four hours, the N.Y. State Police gave the “all clear” after determining that the “active shooter” was actually a student later identified as “Ben.”

In the days following, the atmosphere on campus has been filled with tension, according to D’Jonita Cottrell.

“Some students are angry and then sad and then confused and then disappointed,” she said. “Some students are genuinely just trying to make it out of bed everyday.”

Many of the Black male students on campus have realized they could become a target, as Black students only make up 5.2 percent of the full-time undergraduate population.

“I fear for my life at all moments for many reasons,” Maxie said. “One of them being, the school has no actual protocol for school emergencies like school shootings. We are in the middle of nowhere. In upstate New York. Confederate flags and [President Donald Trump] flags paint the landscape. The KKK is like, down the street. …

“What if these alt-right white supremacists try to take me out?”

Student Max Michael said he’s disappointed that the school racially profiled Ben, noting many students were angry about the reported description of a “6’2 Black male.”

“The person who was racially profiled is much shorter,” Michael said.

He pointed out the problem with the perception of Black people and noted students feared Ben could have been killed.

“I think, historically, there has been a tendency to project fear onto Black bodies,” he said. “Black bodies are perceived to be stronger, taller, more threatening. People forget we aren’t superhumans. We aren’t weapons.”

Michael said the incident has affected the way white and Black students interact.

“People feel like white students are afraid of us,” he said. “Like when social events are hosted at non-Greek housing, where the majority of the party is people of color, the white students I see there are uncomfortable and not really open to meeting or talking to most of the people of color.”

The impact that racism has on the way white people interact with Black people led Cottrell to wonder what the school’s response would have been if the accused gunman had been white.

“There is no protocol when events like these happen, so we need to acknowledge that, although people were doing their jobs, there were also individual judgment calls, affected by implicit biases and racism, that happened along the way that shouldn’t have,” Cottrell said. “I just can’t help but wonder: If it were a white male, would the National Guard be called in?

“I think we already know the answer because the call that started it all wouldn’t have happened in the first place.”

Although this incident made national headlines for what turned out to be an extreme reaction by the administration, Colgate’s history of racism is nothing new.

In 2014, the college dealt with bigoted messages being posted on the anonymous messaging app Yik Yak, prompting then-President Jeffrey Herbst to promise to create a supportive and welcoming environment. A similar promise was made by current-President Brian W. Casey in the wake of Monday’s incident, but Maxie isn’t confident the school will take the steps necessary to ensure Black students feel accepted at Colgate.

Cottrell believes the solution will come from white students opening a dialogue with Black students and recognizing their privilege as white people.

“White students have the job of educating themselves, engaging in conversation with others, acknowledging the reasons why people of color feel the way they do, understanding that they do not and will not ever fully understand the experiences of people of color on this campus,” she said.

“They need to show up. They need to challenge themselves. They need to question and self-reflect at every step.”

Some students may be tempted to transfer schools after such a harrowing event, but Cottrell, who is scheduled to graduate in 2019, won’t.

“As of today, I do plan on continuing my academics here,” she said. “Racism and prejudice [are] present on every campus in this country and leaving because of this event is not the right choice for me. I already do give Black students and students in general a warning about attending because there are so many harmful things that come to life and are exacerbated here on this campus.

“My motto has always been that talking about, calling it out and acknowledging that we have a problem is a better sign than having these injustices covered up like they often are at other institutions.”

Maxie said Ben, the student at the center of the episode, does not wish to speak to media about his experience.

“The well-being and safety of our students is paramount, and we are committed to making our campus safe,” Interim Vice President and Dean of the College Mark D. Thompson said in a statement. “Protocols are in place for responding to emergencies and our campus has a very low crime rate. It saddens me to hear that someone feels unsafe in this community, and I would encourage anyone that feels that way to reach out to my office, or to take advantage of the many campus services that work to address safety concerns.”

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