UND students speak out after controversial social media posts
GRAND FORKS, N.D.-When Amina Chinnell-Mateen first saw the now viral photo of four people wearing blackface masks with the caption "Black lives matter," she was angry.She wanted to protect others who might not have been strong enough to handle th...
GRAND FORKS, N.D.-When Amina Chinnell-Mateen first saw the now viral photo of four people wearing blackface masks with the caption "Black lives matter," she was angry.
She wanted to protect others who might not have been strong enough to handle the attention, so she shared that photo on Facebook and other social media.
The photo was the second racially charged social media post to surface in less than 48 hours at the University of North Dakota.
"I got death threats in my inbox from people," she told the crowd the Zero Tolerance Rally on Friday, Sept. 30, which was organized in response to those posts. "I was told what I was doing was wrong and that it was just a facial mask. If it was just a facial mask, then you don't write 'Black lives matter.' End of story."
Chinnell-Mateen, a former UND student who is now a housemom at the Kappa Alpha Theta fraternity for women, was one of about 200 people Friday afternoon at the rally in front of UND's Twamley Hall. The rally was "a gathering for justice, solidarity and support for students affected by racism on our campus," according to a poster for the event.
About a dozen people - both black and white - shared how racist behavior on UND's campus has affected their lives, speaking about racial incidents they've encountered or witnessed.
Those who did not speak to the larger group were asked to write their thoughts on a sheet of paper and hang it on a clothesline outside Twamley Hall.
"Pulled over eight times - no tickets. Called a n***** four times. I have been here a year," one paper read.
The rally comes a little more than a week after two racially charged social media posts involving UND received national media attention. Both photos were posted on Snapchat, a popular mobile app used to post video and images.
The first of the two controversial social media posts depicted two women and a man wearing UND apparel smiling in what appears to be a residence hall. The photo is captioned "Locked the black b**** out."
The second image showed four people with their faces covered with black material and the caption "Black lives matter."
The woman whose phone was stolen, leading to the first photo, spoke at the rally, saying she was shocked by the photo and that she since has moved out of her dorm because she no longer felt comfortable.
Holding back tears, the woman said she has asked the UND Police Department to end its criminal investigation into the matter because she doesn't think the university will do anything about the incident.
"I just want some form of action to take place and not for the school to keep sweeping incidents like this under the rug," she told the crowd.
The police investigation has closed, but the investigation by the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities into both social media posts will continue, according to a statement from UND.
"As an educational institution, UND supports freedom of expression and the exchange of different thoughts and ideas," according to the statement. "At the same time, the university condemns comments and actions that are racist, bigoted or threatening. The University of North Dakota is committed to thoroughly investigating the complaints that may violate its policies. According to President Mark Kennedy, 'We will not sweep these issues under the rug.'"
After the rally, Kennedy, who along with other UND administrators were in attendance, said the university is not tolerating the behavior seen in the social media posts or spoken about during the rally. Kennedy met with students from various student diversity groups after the rally to talk about issues of diversity and inclusion at the university.
"I am hopeful because you not only saw a number of leaders coming together and organizing this, but you saw a large group from a diverse group of students and faculty here," Kennedy said. "This is important because we've been embracing 'One UND' and that is aspirational in so many ways when it comes to embracing all walks of our communities and making them feel included and welcomed. We have work to do, and I'm happy to have allies working on that."
Kennedy announced earlier this week that the school will form a diversity advisory council to provide recommendations for improving the campus climate on issues of diversity and inclusion.
The president tapped Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Sandra Mitchell to lead the process of selecting no more than 12 individuals to serve on the council.
Initially, the council will focus its efforts on what the university is doing in terms of diversity and inclusion and how those compare to the best practices at other universities and colleges. Then, the group will make a list of recommendations to Kennedy on how UND can implement those practices and programs.
Chinnell-Mateen and others at the rally want UND to create a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to issues of racism. Multiple times during the rally, those in attendance chanted "zero tolerance policy," while students held signs reading "Zero Tolerance Policy," "Change Now" and "Import Who?!"
"I don't think that the administration is hearing us," Chinnell-Mateen said. "I think that they have photo evidence, and they are not acting in the way other universities have acted. And I understand that it takes due process, and I understand that it takes time, but I don't believe it should take this much time. These incidences and the ones that have happened, there's a long history of UND not doing anything, and that's a problem."