Students respond with disappointment following back-to-back bias-related incidents in Niagara Hall

A resident assistant in Niagara Hall decorated a whiteboard with a drawing for Black History Month (pictured left) that was then erased by an unknown person (pictured right). One gender-neutral bathroom was also vandalized with the words,“men only”(Courtesy of niagara hall resident).

Niagara Hall has been the site of several bias-related incidents in past weeks. Sometime between Feb. 9 and 10, a Black History Month drawing on a whiteboard was erased through. The board clearly said, “do not erase” and was designed by one of the resident assistants in Niagara Hall.

Also, at one of the all-gendered bathrooms in Niagara, students say the words “men only” were written over a sign indicating the bathroom was gender-neutral. 

“We were told there was a whiteboard that had been decorated for Black History Month and I guess finger prints were through it, and the bathroom had been changed from saying ‘all gender’ to ‘men only,’” special education major freshman and resident of Niagara Hall Katy Munn said. 

RAs held a meeting to discuss the incidents with the students of the residence hall. RAs said that “it wouldn’t be tolerated by Niagara staff and UPD was investigating it because it was a bias-related act,” according to childhood education freshman and Niagara Hall resident Alyssa Mary.  

Munn went on to explain that RAs had said it could not be confirmed if either incident was a hate crime. 

It is not known whether or not the erasing of the whiteboard was done with malicious intent. Residents of the building thought it may have been a result of people coming in and out of the building for Greek Life bids weekend. This would have also made the person who did it very difficult to track down. 

The Black History Month board wasn’t the only board erased during the weekend. Two other boards were erased in the building the same day, according to psychology major freshman resident of Niagara Hall Naija-Li Rivers. This is why some suspect it may not have been intentionally bias-related, but it has made residents of the building apprehensive either way. 

“Since it was bid weekend, [RAs] were thinking it would be tough to track down who did it because we had people in and out of the building all weekend,” Munn said. “It makes me a little uncomfortable, if it was intentional, that people feel the need to do that.”

Residents were also made uncomfortable by the bias-related incident that took place at the gender-neutral bathroom in Niagara. Even students who did not identify as LGBTQ+ were alarmed with the situation.

“The bathroom [incident], that made me super uncomfortable. I don’t identify as trans or queer, but for someone to feel like they’re not welcome and live in a building with someone [who did that] ... that made me uncomfortable,” Rivers said.

Pride Alliance e-board member Madeline Reichler was alarmed by the event, but hopes that it will start change for the future.

“Transgender people face a higher risk of harassment and assault in gendered bathrooms than cisgender (not transgender) people do,” Reichler said in an e-mail, on behalf of Pride Alliance. “Seeing as how the designation of ‘all-gender’ on the single stall bathroom in Niagara Hall is already inclusive of men, this act of vandalism clearly targeted those who are transgender. We hope that this incident will show our school community how necessary it is to support facilities that protect the safety of transgender students.” 

Overall, students were not surprised that these incidents had occurred. They are not isolated incidents and it is a problem bigger than just these two incidents, according to geography and black studies double major sophomore Kazon Robinson. 

“I shouldn’t be surprised ... particularly as someone who’s a geography and black studies dual major. I studied a lot of ... incidents like these and obviously the incident, it’s like extraordinarily vague but it’s still a problem because they had to firstly see damage, then in their head processes it and say, ‘oh I’m going to erase that because something about it bothers me,’” Robinson said. 

Robinson went on to suggest that more dialogues be created around the topic to prevent things like this happening in the future, and that while the person who did this may not want to participate, it can still educate others.

“An issue shouldn’t need to happen if students are generally educated and genuinely want to have dialogue on issues that bother them,” Robinson said. “I think going a step further and having more events that are related and around these tough topics, particularly [for] students who are incoming freshmen.”

Residents of Niagara Hall felt the situation was handled as best as it could’ve been, given that the person who did it was not known. RAs offered support and made themselves available for residents to talk about the event if needed.

“They handled it pretty well, once you find the people who did it then you can punish them,” Rivers said. “But all you can do for now is tell people you’re here for them and let them know that these kinds of things are not okay.” 

Chief Diversity Officer, robbie routenberg, explained that Student Life works with the Office of Diversity and Equity  to make this an educational oppurtunity for the campus. 

“[The] educational opportunity, in this case, is that two of the RAs have been collaborating with our Office of Diversity and Equity to offer a peer-facilitated dialogue (DICE Wokeshop) for members of the community on issues of inclusion. While this dialogue is responsive to an incident, we encourage the campus to request these Wokeshops as a prevensatative tool, too. They are designed to foster awareness and empathy and can be a wonderful way to enhance our campus climate.” routenburg said in a statement.

Managing editor Malachy Dempsey contributed reporting to this article.