Area colleges grapple with post-election tensions

Villanova8
Villanova University's campus.

Colleges across the region are grappling with postelection tensions on campus, offering messages of unity, holding prayer services and peace vigils, boosting counseling services, and engaging in classroom and campuswide discussions whether their school has had problems or not.

Three more schools - La Salle University, the University of the Sciences, and Lehigh University - said Monday they were investigating reports of incidents of violence or harassment that may be related to the presidential election.

And Villanova University, where a black student reported last week that she was assaulted by white males yelling "Trump, Trump, Trump," urged faculty to discuss with their students in class the recent reports of racism and violence on college campuses.

To stay silent, wrote the provost and chief diversity officer, could be "misinterpreted as indifference or, even worse, tacit agreement with malicious actions."

The University of Pennsylvania, where black freshmen were targeted with online racist messages by three individuals in Oklahoma last week, is making counseling services available to students day and night, in the office, in other campus locations, and at events, said spokesman Ron Ozio. Penn's Counseling and Psychological Services also is reaching out to students affected by the attack, he said.

Bryn Mawr College president Kim Cassidy and Haverford College president Kim Benston issued a joint statement to their campuses on Monday.

"We write to express our strong support for every person who has been hurt or menaced by these heinous acts, and to all who are fearful as a result," they wrote.

At Villanova, Radnor Township police continue to investigate the reported assault that occurred in a SEPTA tunnel on campus Thursday night. The incident, university officials said, is one of several reports of intimidation and humiliation in the Villanova University community since Donald Trump was elected president.

In their email to faculty, Provost Patrick G. Maggitti and Teresa A. Nance, chief diversity officer, said faculty voices can have a much larger impact on students than those of administrators, given their role as teachers and mentors.

"It is important for faculty to acknowledge the seriousness of these events and the fact that such actions have no place on our campus," they wrote.

Villanova also has scheduled a "community conversation" for Thursday and a student-led peace vigil.

At La Salle, officials are investigating two incidents potentially related to the election. In one, a white male student sustained a concussion after a confrontation with five other male students who were African American and Asian.

"While this incident appears to be personal in nature and likely unrelated to the presidential election, remarks with racial overtones may have been said," the university said in a statement.

In a second incident, a female student wearing a Trump hat was alleged to have received "unwelcome and inappropriate comments."

Lehigh, in Bethlehem, Pa., is investigating an allegation that an adjunct professor on the day after the election made inappropriate comments to a student in class regarding the student's ethnic heritage.

And at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, two allegations of harassment are under investigation. Spokesman Brian Kirschner said both involved students.

Colleges have been rolling out a plethora of events and actions, meant to address the unrest.

La Salle on Monday afternoon held a healing prayer service in its chapel. A sit-in by members of the African American Student League is scheduled for Tuesday. And later in the week, a "brave space" will be created where students, faculty, and staff can share their feelings about the election.

USciences will address the issue at a previously scheduled town hall meeting on Thursday and as part of the regular Student Government Association meeting this week.

Rutgers-Camden plans to set up chalkboards at the campus center Monday where students can share their feelings.

Student body leaders from Temple, La Salle, Penn, Drexel, and St. Joseph's Universities plan to issue a statement emphasizing that all students are valued, said senior Beckett Woodworth, student body president at La Salle.

"As representatives of 50,000 undergraduate students, we are committed to values of diversity, inclusion, safety, and respect," the group said. "We believe in the dignity of every person on campus and in our communities."

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) met with students at Penn on Monday and later called on public officials, including Trump, "to continuously condemn these acts of hate."

Joe DeFelice, chairman of the Philadelphia Republican Party, condemned violence against anyone "because of who they are or who they are perceived to be." But he also blamed the "media narrative that lumps all dissent from 'progressive' values in with the most virulent racists."

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