An “intense and expedited investigation” was underway into a racially charged incident that occurred in a dormitory on Halloween, officials at Texas A&M University’s Galveston campus said Monday.
Student Corinthia Morgan, 21, said she felt fear and intimidation while getting ready for bed on Halloween night, when four college-aged people entered her dormitory and one of them threatened her with vulgar, racial slurs.
“He came up to my door and screamed ‘n … er’ loudly multiple times,” Morgan, a junior, said. “All I wanted to do was get out of my bed and fight him, but I knew I couldn’t do that.”
The next morning, Morgan met with Danny Roe, the diversity education specialist in the campus Office of Student Affairs and filed a report.
Morgan was immediately moved to a new dorm and given a new meal plan. Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Sutherland held a mandatory floor meeting at Morgan’s original dorm and police questioned residents about the incident, officials said.
“Everyone has been extremely hands-on and they aren’t sweeping this under the rug,” Morgan said.
Col. Mike Fossum, CEO of the Galveston campus, sent a letter to students and faculty Nov. 9 about the incident and reiterated that such behavior was intolerable. Fossum stated the incident was under “intense and expedited investigation” and that the university would take appropriate action when the perpetrator was identified.
Fossum urged students to take a stand against divisive behavior on campus and live up to Aggie standards.
“Each of us must do our part to foster an environment in which each one of us can live up to our greatest potential,” Fossum said.
Enrollment has steadily risen since the Pelican Island campus opened in 1962. In the fall 2015 semester, enrollment reached 2,324. About 2 percent of those students are black, while 1,763 white students make up 76 percent of the enrollment and Hispanic students are second with 16 percent, according to a campus fact book.
Ashvin Adarsh, an international student from India who graduated this year, said he’s seen how a lack of diversity affects campus culture.
“It was intimidating when I first moved to Texas for school,” Adarsh said. “I made friends, but many of them did not understand my culture and it was hard for me to adjust not knowing what to expect.
“I think the school would benefit from more diversity,” Adarsh said. “It would give students the opportunity to learn about other countries and cultures instead of assuming.”
The campus has organizations such as the Black Student Alliance and Aggies United to empower minority students and emphasize the importance of diversity and inclusion in advancing the university’s core values, officials said.
Morgan said the Halloween incident was not the first time she had heard racial slurs on the campus.
“As I walk up and down the hallway, I hear people casually say slurs,” Morgan said. “There are also subtle micro-aggressions, but I’ve gotten used to those.”
Adarsh said he never felt threatened on campus, but also had experienced micro-aggressions, which are casual degradations of any marginalized group.
A friend once told Adarsh she would never go to India for fear of being raped.
“It hurt in the moment to hear her say that, I couldn’t really respond,” Adarsh said. “I wish people knew that the actions of a few don’t define a whole country.”
Although leadership has taken action in light of Morgan’s event, there is an underlying problem of inherent biases and racism.
Last year, Carol Bunch-Davis, an associate professor at the campus, saw a need for an inclusive organization for students to discuss different perspectives through varying identities. Bunch-Davis guided interested students and faculty in creating Aggies United.
“As an institution, the point is to educate people,” Bunch-Davis said. “I think this group helps people understand different ranges of perspectives about life on campus. I think we’re doing a good job addressing incidents and educating.”
Bunch-Davis sees positive changes because of organizations based on inclusion and diversity, but she said she knows some students will always have preconceived notions about certain identities. She believes engaging these issues in the curriculum of classes will give students the opportunity to educate themselves on different perspectives, however, she said.
The campus will begin a Common Reader Pilot program next semester that specifically targets questions of identity, inclusion and diversity. A few classes will be reading “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J.D. Vance.
The book takes the reader through Vance’s life as he grew up among the white working-class in Appalachia, but made choices that led him to law school, where he felt out of place and went through an identity crisis because he was from such a different background than his peers.
“Students are being compelled at a curricular level to engage in questions and opportunities to learn about peers and themselves,” Bunch-Davis said.
“I think people need to be more open to these experiences. We’re training students in fields where there they will have to engage with people who are different from what they are used to.”
Bunch-Davis said she was pleased about how the campus had responded to the incident in Morgan’s dorm. Leadership had made it clear there was no reason for hatred on a university campus, she said.
Morgan said she was hopeful the social climate on campus would be influenced by the way the issue had been handled.
“Even if they don’t find the guy, I think how seriously they’re taking this will make an impact,” Morgan said. “The fact that Sutherland, the vice president, got involved has a lot of weight and can hopefully change things on campus.”
Faculty on the campus was very disturbed about the incident, External Relations Officer Bill McClain said.
“But being disturbed isn’t enough and we’re going to have to take consistent action to combat this behavior,” he said.
Although officials want to have an inclusive campus, Morgan said she wasn’t hopeful about changing human behavior.
“You can do your best to educate people, but at the end of the day some people still choose to hate someone because of the color of their skin,” Morgan said.
“You can’t change that.”