For four students, what started as a horrifying experience with racism turned into an opportunity to do something good for Auburn’s campus.
Audrey Ross, Ashley Edwards, Helen Agha and Sierra Canty are in the process of creating a program at Auburn that will raise awareness for issues of diversity in response to a Jan. 23 incident that exposed them to intolerance among a fellow student or students.
“My roommate Helen and I and Audrey came back one night from going out,” said Edwards, freshman in psychology, “and someone had scratched into our door, ‘I hate you n-words,’ pretty big and obviously.”
The vandalized door belonged to Edwards and Agha, sophomore in computer science, who are roommates in Sasnett Hall. Canty was inside her room next door, which she shares with Ross, freshman in mathematics and Spanish, when the incident occurred, but claimed she did not hear anything.
“After that we contacted our RA, Jasmine, and she started to write an incident report, and we were advised to call the police,” Edwards said. “So we called the City of Auburn police, and the police officer came and the experience we had with him wasn’t too good.
“He didn’t seem like he wanted to make a report. We had to ask him about three times, you know, to write the report, because he kept saying that there was nothing he could do for us.”
Ross said the person who committed the offense was never found.
“And that’s kind of what’s scary, is that we live there and we have no idea who did that,” Ross said.
Ross said she and her suitemates had never experienced any incidents with other people in the dorm before the occurrence.
Edwards said the experience took a positive turn when University administrators began to get involved.
“Helen’s and my mom contacted the school, and so we were then reached out to by the housing director, Ms. Becky (Bell), and they asked to meet with all of us,” Edwards said. “And then we began to talk about … the steps we wanted to take next.”
In communication with several departments on campus, the students have now begun to develop a program they hope will respond to the issues raised by the January incident. They have decided to call it The Human Touch, a name suggested by Shakeer Abdullah, director of the Multicultural Center, and inspired by a line in the Auburn Creed.
“Pretty much above all, I guess we just want to foster a campus that is aware of differences but also embraces them,” Edwards said. “You know, a campus that I guess really lives up to the family name and doesn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable for any sort of way they choose to identify themselves by, whether it be skin color or gender or sexuality or if someone has a disability. Just all these things that make us us, we need to embrace them as a family.”
The women have had several meetings with various campus representatives, including Abdullah and Bell, director of Residence Life, to come up with ideas for how the program should be structured and what goals to accomplish.
“What they’re looking to do is create a program that allows students and staff to be proactive in raising awareness in issues of diversity,” Abdullah said. “It will probably be housed within multiple departments, not particularly here in the Multicultural Center.”
Ross said she hopes to gain support and create leadership positions for the program by next fall, which is when she hopes to host the program’s first big event.
“And then from that we can develop the program that we’ve been talking about, which is going to be some month-long program that will deal with a specific topic for the month, and upon completion members would get some sort of recognition,” Ross said.
Edwards said one way the group hopes to gain support is by hosting a Concourse pledge.
“The idea was to create an actual tangible pledge against discrimination in the Auburn family,” Edwards said. “So you have this idea where … we create a pledge that pretty much says that ‘I pretty much love my brothers and sisters in Auburn. I’m not going to treat them in any disrespectful way,’ and then people are signing it, and so hopefully we’ll have an actual pledge with hopefully hundreds of students who have committed to that idea.”
Ross said they hope the program will become a lasting part of Auburn University.
“We haven’t got the specifics yet, so we don’t know really what our final product is,” Ross said. “I guess we’re kind of steering away from organization and sticking more with the administration side of it and to kind of a department which is a collaboration of multiple departments. But we definitely want it to be something that lives beyond just even our time here and keep it going.”
Ross said she thinks cooperation with campus representatives will help keep the program alive.
“I think that’s kind of what sets us apart from other programs is our connection with the administration,” Ross said. “Because we have all these different ideas—like when we have our meetings, we’re getting people who have really relevant experience with issues like this.
“We’re getting Shakeer, who has this training in a bunch of different training programs, and he’s got these outlines. And Becky’s got connections with Residence Life and how to get this going with the halls around here.
“So I think that everybody has a very relevant position in this, and I think to make it a more useful program you’ve got to expand it.”
Ross said what began as a negative experience has been met with a positive reaction.
“We are so thrilled of the people that we’re involved with now,” Ross said. “I don’t think we could really ask for more support because they seem just as excited about this program as we are. I think every time that we talk with them, we get more hopeful about what this program could become.”
I went to school with Ashley ^.^ It’s so cool that she’s involved in this [although what she and her roommates had to go through is shitty ): ].