Protests criticize PSU’s response to racist harassment, assault of students

  • Plymouth State students and NH PANTHER members gathered on the PSU campus last week to protest the university's handling of the harassment and assault. Courtesy

New Hampshire Public Radio
Published: 9/16/2021 6:13:23 PM

Plymouth State University students and community members protested at the school last week, saying the university’s response to recent acts of racism and violence was inadequate.

On Sept. 7, Plymouth State University Police alerted students and faculty to two incidents since the start of the semester: one in which a student was harassed with racist language, and another in which a student was assaulted.

It took more than a day for the Office of Student Life to follow up with a campus-wide email providing resources for students.

Rebekah Lewis, a sophomore at Plymouth State, said the delay in the university’s response was disappointing.

“From a student perspective, it was really disheartening not getting that information, like right from the beginning.”

One of the protestors was Ben Bacote, director of NH PANTHER, or Plymouth Area Network To Help End Racism. Bacote, also a Plymouth State alumni, sent a statement to administrators.

“While we are grateful for the notification to the PSU community, there has been no guarantee of a follow-up, no crisis info provided, or crisis safety resources offered,” Bacote wrote. “There has been no critical support offered, or future safety ensured for Black and brown students here; in effect, Plymouth State University has not done enough to protect its community or prevent future acts of racially motivated harm, they have only committed an abdication of responsibility and a handoff of responsibility to law enforcement. This is unacceptable.”

Lewis added that after receiving the initial email from police, some students were frightened about going to class.

“There were students I heard of that didn’t end up going to classes because they didn’t feel safe,” Lewis said. “People have been talking about it, wondering what was going on. It just was not handled very well.”

NHPR reached out to Plymouth State with questions and received the following statement from Marlin Collingwood.

“Plymouth State University condemns two incidents of racial bias that recently occurred in our community and we take these disturbing events very seriously. Both our University and Plymouth police departments are actively investigating these incidents, and all relevant campus offices are involved as well, including the President’s Office, Student Life, and our Counseling Center. I’ve met personally with students and other members of our community and further discussions are planned. PSU offers multiple diversity- and minority-related resources for students and others. Additionally, a national search is underway for a cabinet-level Director of Diversity, Equity and Social Justice who will lead our efforts to provide the highest level of relevant resources and support to our community. Beginning next week, we will be hosting a weekly discussion series on Social Justice topics in addition to other opportunities for students and others to learn and grow. PSU is a community that embraces and celebrates diversity and differences among all people, and we are committed to providing a safe, supportive and welcoming community for all.”

Plymouth State University Police said they are continuing to investigate the incidents.

Editor’s Note: This story was changed to include a longer statement from Plymouth State University.

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