Luther College Chips

Utter rejection

Luther mobilizes in wake of hate incident, many left wondering ‘what next?’

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Luther College President Paula Carlson addresses the campus community after hate symbols were found on Luther’s football field. Carlson said she “utterly rejected“ the acts.

Luther College President Paula Carlson addresses the campus community after hate symbols were found on Luther’s football field. Carlson said she “utterly rejected“ the acts.

Jacob Warehime (‘18) | Chips

Jacob Warehime (‘18) | Chips

Luther College President Paula Carlson addresses the campus community after hate symbols were found on Luther’s football field. Carlson said she “utterly rejected“ the acts.

Jacob Warehime and Ana López

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On the morning of Sunday, March 11, Campus Safety and Security discovered the letters “KKK” and a swastika stomped into the snow on the football field in Carlson Stadium. The Luther community quickly mobilized, holding both a call to solidarity and a community dialogue later that evening. However, many students are left wondering what the college’s long-term response should be in the wake of this public hate incident.

Students were first notified about the incident via a campus-wide email from Luther College President Paula Carlson at 12:12 p.m.

“I condemn cowardly and hateful acts like these,” Carlson said in her email. “Such acts cause harm and pain to our community members, and they are antithetical to our core Luther Values.”

At 6:00 p.m. that night, approximately 200 students, faculty, and community members gathered at midfield of Carlson Stadium in a call to solidarity. The call was led by Carlson, who delivered a statement, and Campus Pastor Mike Blair, who led a litany where attendees responded with the phrase “we stand together.” 

As Carlson and Blair waited to begin the call to solidarity, attendees watched in awe as a bald eagle circled overhead, flying off just before Carlson began her address.

In her address, Carlson echoed many of the sentiments from her email.

“I utterly reject the reprehensible acts that happened on this field last night,” Carlson said. “It causes great pain and harm to members of our community and it is very, very deeply hurtful to us individual community members and to the fabric of our life together here at Luther College.”

Jana Mueller (‘19) attended the call for solidarity and felt it was a powerful demonstration.

“We don’t know who did this act of hate or why they did it, but either way it is good to know that the Luther community stands together and will take action against hateful acts like these,” Mueller said.

Photo courtesy of Photo Bureau
Harleigh Boldridge (’18) speaks at the CFL after the gathering on the football field.

After the call to solidarity at midfield, Carlson and Blair led attendees to the Center for Faith and Life for a community dialogue. The gathering began with a prayer from Carlson before transitioning into an open forum.

According to Blair, the purpose of the dialogue was to listen to students’ reactions and experiences. The comments shared included student reactions to the notification of the signs on the football field, student expressions that they felt unsafe on campus, and calls for more active engagement from the administration. Students also directly asked members of the administration questions concerning the transparency of the ongoing investigation, as well as what can be expected from Luther after these events. Carlson responded by assuring attendees that there will be communication between the administration and other pertinent authorities in regards to the investigation.

For Black Student Union (BSU) Vice President Daniel Brown (‘18), the open forum was a difficult experience due to the gravity of the situation.

“Most people didn’t know how to feel, let alone what to say or how to react [during the forum],” Brown said. “Everybody was just eerily quiet wondering what other people had to say and lowkey expecting students of color and affected students to be like ‘This is how I’m feeling, floodgates, everything coming out.’ And I’m kind of like, f— that. That doesn’t feel any better at all. I’m trying to digest what this means and how I feel. Because this is an actual threat. This is something I should actually be really concerned for in my daily life.”

For many students, while the incident was upsetting, it was not a surprise.

“I was shocked that I got the email but I was not shocked that something like this happened,” BSU President Harleigh Boldridge (‘18) said.

Iloria Phoenix (‘18) echoed this sentiment.

“While I was shocked, I wasn’t surprised,” Phoenix said. “This is not the first time on Luther’s campus that hate signs have been revealed. It is just the boldest way it has happened.” 

Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion Alyssa Henning commented on this lack of astonishment.

“For some people in our community, this was not surprising,” Henning said. “For others it was maybe not surprising per se, but they may not have felt personally vulnerable until this happened. And for others it is genuinely surprising. So how do we come together as a community when everyone is processing those different feelings and making sure that we process it in a way where we’re listening to the people who are most affected and most hurt?”

At the end of the forum, Carlson emphasized her commitment to the Luther community and urged students to engage with the administration moving forward.

“We are working together to engage and rebuild structure, re-invigorate, re-vision, engage with the community, and serve better the needs of our students; to better who we are,” Carlson said.

To Boldridge, this means more than just talk.

“When we as a college decided that sustainability was an issue, we threw money at the problem,” Boldridge said. “We purchased compost bins for all of campus. We purchased a solar field. We have a farm. We have an entire major devoted to this. And we bought a wind turbine.”

Boldridge went on to say that she would like to see these same efforts applied to issues of social justice on campus.

“I know that there is talk about how to get people invested in something like racial reconciliation,” Boldridge said. “And while that has been talked about a lot, I haven’t seen an institutional side of ‘what would campus be like if the Diversity Center was adequately funded?’ What would it mean to have a peace and reconciliation bachelor’s degree?”

Phoenix agreed, saying that these types of changes are necessary.

“The administration needs to act,” Phoenix said. “And I’m very happy that they are going to act in implementing hopefully better policies and giving more funding to education on diversity and to an inclusive community.”

Boldridge also said she would like to see more people with voting power in the administration voice these concerns.

“It has been phenomenal to have [Interim Dean for Institutional Equity and Inclusion] Lisa Scott in a leadership position,” Boldridge said. “She’s so wonderful and I love the changes that I’ve seen since she’s been here. And I wonder what would happen if we hired more people like her.”

However, Brown cautioned members of the community not be complacent.

“Don’t use [Scott] as some trophy to be like, ‘Yo, we got Lisa so feel better,’” Brown said.

Phoenix also added that she would like to see more personal conversations.

“[On Monday] I was very frustrated that in all of my classes, nothing was mentioned about this act. I did not hear from many of my white friends a discontent with what happened. I hardly heard any conversations.”

Brown agreed, proposing that these conversations should not just happen outside of school.

“I would like to see classrooms acknowledge what happened,” Brown said. “Even just taking 15 minutes of class to say, ‘Talk about the KKK and what they mean, and what that means for people that they’re targeting.’ That way other students who aren’t affected can be like, ‘Damn, that is messed up that some students have to be worried about their lives because of bigotry.’”

Henning agreed, saying that it is important to include all students in conversation.

“One of the things that I can do [as a professor] is make sure that I am talking about what happened,” Henning said. “I can point out what happened and that it is not necessarily an anomaly to parts of our community. And by making that a conversation we have in class, nobody can say ‘this is a conversation that I don’t have to participate in’ or ‘this doesn’t apply to me.’”

Vice President and Dean for Student Life Corey Landstrom expressed similar sentiments, saying that the Luther community must constantly work to be preventative, not just reactionary.

“These behaviors, however, affect us all — they harm and hurt,” Landstrom said. “This incident has called us to act as a community today, but I call for us to act every day to prevent, confront, or report such acts regardless of scale.”

Brown hopes that the incident will send a message.

“The climate on campus is not peachy-keen,” Brown said. “It’s not what you think. It’s not fine and dandy. We feel targeted. We don’t feel safe.”

For Henning, this is just the beginning of a larger effort.

“I’m heartened in some ways by the conversations that I see starting to happen and I hope we don’t lose momentum as we get away from [last] Sunday,” Henning said. “Because some of it is about hates symbols on the football field, but a lot of it is much bigger than that, so I hope we retain that momentum as a community.”

Going forward, Campus Safety and Security will continue its ongoing investigation into the hate symbols stomped on the football field. Additionally, administration scheduled a follow-up conversation to further discuss issues raised during the initial open forum on Sunday, March 11. This was held Wednesday, March 14, in the Mott Room in Dahl Centennial Union, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

For Phoenix, this incident will leave a mark going forward.

“The snow will melt, the message will be gone,” Phoenix said. “But, truth be told, that message and those pictures are stamped in my mind forever.”

Carlson invites students to stop by the President’s Office or email [email protected] to leave comments, suggestions, or ask questions.

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