Tabor students respond to racial incident at Bethany

Twenty-four days after an outside “hate organization” wrote racially offensive messages on the Bethany College campus in Linds­borg, about 50 Tabor College students gathered Sept. 27 to express their feelings about the incident, to find and offer support, and to consider how they should respond if such a group came to their campus.

“Maybe those of you who are here are coming with a desire to listen and learn, and you are in the process of thinking about what your role is on racial unity and reconciliation on our campus,” said Erica Haude, director of student success, who moderated the session.

“But knowing we’re all in different places, we want to come together in a spirit of unity and do this together as a community.”

Haude set the tone by sharing Scripture, leading the group in a reading of the “Unity of All” prayer by Hanto Yo, and inviting participants to pray in small groups.

The Bethany incident occurred Sept. 3 when perpe­trators chalked several racist messages, including ‘Make Lindsborg white again,’ on the sidewalks that cut through the heart of campus.

Days later, the person claiming responsibility called Bethany’s new president, William Jones, to say the messages were targeted at Jones’ family, which includes six children; two are adopted and biracial.

Haude said the threat of a similar incident at Tabor and other colleges is real, but she encouraged students not to live in fear.

“Let your love propel us into deeper conversation and actions,” she said. “We have work to do on our own campus to combat hate with love.”

Haude encouraged students to pray for the hate group itself.

“As Christians, we’re called to be peacemakers,” she said. “Peacemaking is very active. It means even praying for our enemies. Let it move us into deeper communication and action.”

When the floor was opened for comments, one male student said his first response to the incident was surprise—not that racist groups exist, but that it happened so close.

Another male said the news made him think of his extended family, which includes three bi-racial nephews and nieces. Even so, he added, “We need to put aside our agenda and pray for our enemies.”

A female student of Mexican heritage said she was frightened after hearing about the incident.

“I want to know that someone will stand up for me (if threatened by racist encounters),” she said. “I need to know that you guys have my back.”

The group shared thoughts about how students should respond if the same perpetrators would show up on the Tabor campus.

In response to one student’s question, Jim Paulus, vice president for student life, confirmed that the Tabor campus is private property; unwelcomed guests can be ordered to leave. In the meantime, he encouraged students to be observant.

“If you see anything that makes you uncomfortable, find an employee,” he said. “We don’t need armed guards. Look out for each other. We have a community that is safe.”

Several voices said students need to stand together as a family if a racial incident occurs.

“We need to be proactive, and have the strength to stand for our ideals, and get others to stand with us,” said one student.

Another student suggested they seek support with individual students before such incidents occur, and agree to exchange text messages if support is needed.

Haude asked students if they felt racial unity is an area for growth on the Tabor campus.

One female student suggested, “We need to be willing to cross the line and have conversations.”

A male student who grew up in a predominantly white community said he felt he has committed “sins of omission” because he hadn’t taken the initiative to get to know students from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

“I was very encouraged by student participation in the time of prayer and dialogue,” Haude said after the gathering. “I believe it was a very positive first step when it comes to our response to issues of prejudice and hate that exist in our communities and world.

“I think that our campus has room to grow when it comes to issues of unity–race being one of those factors, but not the only,” she added. “Out of the 50 students who were present at the event, only a handful were minority students. My desire is for all students to feel comfortable engaging in these events and conversations.”

The morning after the student gathering at Tabor, the Salina Journal reported that a 19-year-old male from Assaria, who is not a Bethany College student, admitted he was involved in writing the chalk messages on the sidewalks.

The teen told the Journal that he apologized for his actions, including a call to President Jones.

Lindsborg Police Chief Tim Berggren told the journal the racially offensive or potentially threatening messages are not likely to result in criminal charges.

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