Daemen College administrators have suspended two students indefinitely after one of the students wore a costume depicting a member of the Ku Klux Klan and knocked on the door of another student.
The incident happened Monday evening inside Canavan Hall, a residence hall on the Amherst campus that houses mostly freshmen. Six Daemen students were studying at the time. One of the students donned a Greek goddess costume, while another one fashioned a white hood for the costume, creating an outfit that resembled that of a KKK member. The student wearing the costume then walked down the hall of the dormitory and knocked on another student’s door.
Student resident advisors who live in the dormitory witnessed the costume and reported it to Daemen administrators, who also were able to analyze videotape of the incident.
“The people thought they were making a joke and it was just in incredibly poor taste and not well thought out,” said Greg J. Nayor, Daemen’s vice president for student affairs. “It’s an offensive act. It’s inappropriate. It’s promoting a hate group that brings nothing of value to the country.”
The male student who wore the costume and the student who helped dress him were placed on “interim suspension,” which means they had to leave the campus immediately until a formal judicial hearing is held to determine their ultimate penalties. The hearing could be as early as next week. The college began a Thanksgiving break on Wednesday and returns to session on Monday.
“They’ll have a chance to have a hearing and I don’t know what the outcome will be,” said Nayor, whose office was still investigating what happened.
Daemen President Gary Olson issued a letter to the campus community on Tuesday condemning the incident. “I find it unacceptable that at this institution, and in this day and age, people would knowingly wear an outfit that symbolizes hatred and violence and to assume that this is an acceptable joke,” Olson wrote. “While we cannot always control the actions of our students, we can control how we respond. This is the type of swift and immediate response I expect when an incident like this occurs.”
Olson said the college’s director of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs has reached out to members of the campus community and is available for support.
“We must continue to educate our community that this institution is not a place that will tolerate hatred, violence, or the threat thereof. We must also continue to have the courage to stand up to our peers when we see or hear something that is not right, offensive, and/or inappropriate.”
Nayor said it doesn’t appear that the students involved in the incident showed “malicious intent.”
“Regardless, it was an unacceptable act,” he added.
The Chronicle of Higher Education this week listed racist or hate-related incidents at more than two dozen colleges and universities that have happened since the election of Donald J. Trump as president on Nov. 8, such as a University of Oklahoma student who was suspended for sending messages to black freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania that included a “daily lynching” calendar event and a swastika drawn on a classroom white board at American University alongside the words “Go Trump.”
Earlier this month, a University at Buffalo student found a flier on the North Campus in Amherst that read: “Tired of anti-white propaganda in college? You aren’t alone,” followed by a link to therightstuff.biz, a right-wing blog and a swastika was found spray painted next to the word “Trump” inside a common area of a campus dormitory at the State University of New York at Geneseo.
Some observers believe white nationalists and racists were emboldened by Trump’s victory, creating an environment for racist graffiti and other incidents on campuses and more broadly.
But Nayor said he doesn’t think the incident at Daemen falls into that category and characterizing it as such would only be politicizing the matter.
“This had nothing to do with the election,” he said. “There’s nothing that points to that.”
Trump told the New York Times on Tuesday that he does not believe he said things in his campaign to energize a group of alt-right supporters along racial lines.
“I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group,” he told the newspaper during a meeting.