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Old Gold & Black

Student opens up about racially motivated incident on campus

Student+opens+up+about+racially+motivated+incident+on+campus

 

By: Steele Smith, Contributing Writer

“I was walking across the horseshoe to go play basketball in Anna Todd when I heard ‘Hey nigger,'” says Drew Copeland ’19 describing his encounter with racism on campus last semester. This event is what inspired him to organize a three part discussion series “Talking Down Barriers” during the month of February where he was able to open up about the incident with the Wofford community for the first time.

Copeland recounts the events of the night a female student on campus directed a racial slur at him: “She was walking with three other guys, and I heard her say ‘Hey nigger.’ I thought to myself, ‘No way…’ Then it got very harsh, very derogatory, and I could tell it was being directed toward me.”

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Copeland recognized the girl because they are in the same graduating class. He remembers being in shock and disbelief.

“It blows my mind that in this day and age, whether it be stupidity or boldness, people feel like it’s OK to say that,” he says. “I’m not dumb or naïve–I know people feel that way. I didn’t think people could verbalize it.”

Immediately after, he tried to push the situation out of his mind and continue with his night. Unable to do so, he turned to on-campus resources to formally address the problem. He contacted the RA on duty and emailed Dean Roberta Bigger.

“The next morning, I wake up to an email from Dean Bigger with no header or signature,” he says. “It was one sentence without even a period at the end: ‘Sorry it happened, fill out this incident report.’”

Copeland replied, thanking Bigger for sending a report and asking about the investigation process. According to him, her reply back was equally as short. He found it to be dismissive and not reassuring. “I was hurt in that moment. I was looking for something more,” he says.

Ron Norman, director of Diversity and Inclusion, reached out to Copeland, who expressed his unhappiness with the way things were being handled. Shortly after, Bigger asked to set up a meeting.

Copeland paraphrases what he gathered from his meeting with Bigger: “Wofford’s not going to tolerate this. We’re going to use this to set an example. You have staff backing you up. The president knows, the President’s cabinet knows and Campus Union knows. We’re all on the same page.”

At this point, he was optimistic. “I was thinking, ‘You know what, this is going to work out.’ I was excited,” he says. “My friends who are minorities said, ‘Why did you even report it? The system is set up to fail us.’ I told them to trust it, that it’s going to happen.”

The process reached a halt because no conclusions or indisputable evidence could be found. Copeland became doubtful that the issue would ever be properly resolved. Eventually, the investigation was able to confirm that this student had indeed directed a racial slur at Copeland, and on Monday, Dec. 12 he received an email from Norman letting him know that a punishment sanction had been drafted.

The sanction was a $250 fine, 100 hours of volunteer work and the barring of the student from holding a leadership position in any organization on campus. This incident served as a formal warning and were another inicident to occur there would be a harsher sentence.

“I felt like that was crap,” says Copeland. “She lied throughout the entire investigation. Just lie after lie.”

According to Copeland, she first told investigators that she was coming from her room in Dupre so her path could not have crossed his. Then she said she was at her house that night and wasn’t drinking. Later, other students confirmed that she had been drinking.

“I thought, ‘Why are you having mercy on this person?'” recounts a frustrated Copeland.

However, he wanted the conflict to be a teaching moment rather than a chance to punish someone who had wronged him. “I told them from the beginning that I didn’t want her to be expelled,” he says. “She’s from a part of our country where [racial slurs] are more acceptable. I didn’t want her to go home because she wouldn’t have learned anything that way. I wanted her to learn.”

Copeland, dissatisfied with the sanction, contacted Norman with suggested amendments. Skeptical of the usefulness of the fine, he proposed that money go to the Association of Multicultural Students. He also proposed that the community service be raised to 140 hours, that of a Bonner Scholar, and that the student be required to go to a certain number of AMS events, such as lectures and talks that they host.

“I proposed these changes to Ron and he took them to Dean Bigger,” says Copeland. “I don’t know exactly what was said, but none of my suggestions were accepted. They sent her the original sanction.”

Copeland met with Bigger again after this and they discussed the sanction. He was told that the sanction was appropriate and that it would not be an easy process for the guilty student to overcome.

“When [Dean Bigger] said the punishment was a good minimum sanction, that’s when I lost my cool. I was holding it in the entire time,” he explained, emphasizing his silence to the surrounding community throughout the process. Only his family and a few friends knew the details of the situation at this point.

Copeland recounts his response to Bigger: “Do you think that it’s easy for me to be here? Do you think it’s easy for me to act like everything is OK when I see her everyday in class and around campus? Do you think it’s easy to hear people accuse me of lying and wanting attention?”

In his opinion, the way Wofford handles racially charged situations is helping perpetuate the problems on campus, which leads minority students to feel that going to administration with complaints is not fruitful.

“[Wofford] is not as diverse and inclusive as everyone thinks we are,” he says, referencing another incident that happened on campus at an intramural soccer game. A student directed slurs at two African-American students as well as made sexually intrusive comments to a female student. This student received only a sanction banning him from future participation in intramural sports.

“All this is being swept under the rug in order to keep [Wofford’s] name pristine,” he says. “I love Wofford and I’m not doing anything that I’m doing to bash Wofford.”

Over Christmas break Copeland began to think about how he could use this situation to impact other people. When he got back to campus in January he began working with Dr. Jim Neighbors on creating an opportunity to open up a discussion on campus. From their conversations the Breaking Down Barriers and Talking Down Barriers events came into existence.

“You can’t do the same thing, expecting different results,” says Copeland, explaining his choice to be transparent about his experience. He believes that if Wofford as a whole wants to change, it starts with being able to have real conversations about race on campus.

Some students and faculty have questioned his motives for wanting to open up about the experience. “I just want to bring awareness to the situation,” he responds. “Yes, we’re great. We go to Wofford College. I love being a Terrier, but we have our problems, too.”

Copeland says that there have been people supporting him through the whole process. After his first event he had a professor come up to him to encourage him in bringing awareness to the cause. He hopes that opening up about his experience will make Wofford a better community for future students. He says, “[The current Wofford community] can be the ones who started it. We can be the ones who make a lasting impact. For the future Terriers.”

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  • K

    Keith Collins "Class of 1978"Mar 13, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Wow! Time to put the “Big Boy” pants on Mr. Copeland…While I do not agree with the racial slur you were called..I do take issue with you indicting my alma mater for the actions of less than 1% of the student population. ….It is not a perfect world out there which you will discover once you leave the “Bubble” you are living in and go forth into the work world. Unfortunate as your experience was I believe you should see this as a teaching moment and feel blessed that you were able to voice your issue…educate others through your “Taking Down Barriers” initiative and have your silent march around campus. This was provided to you by the administration of Wofford…. on the safe Wofford campus environment. The statement “Race continues to be a skeleton in Wofford’s closet” is insulting !!!!! Good-Luck with your future endeavors and remember..”Sticks and stones may break my bone’s but words will never hurt me !!

  • C

    CodyMar 8, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    It shouldn’t be the responsibility of the oppressed to dismantle oppression, but good on this student for trying to enact change. On the other hand, is anyone at Wofford aware that there’s a non-profit in Spartanburg called Speaking Down Barriers that’s been hosting community conversations on racism for years? This student’s initiative is great, but it also smells like copyright infringements. Wouldn’t it be great if they could combine resources?

  • M

    MaryMar 8, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    As an educator of 44 plus years and a mother of a son who graduated from Wofford, I commend this young man for his courage and heartfelt concern for his college, which he cares so much about. I encourage the entire Spartanburg community to support his efforts so that Wofford’s image is not unworthy, but truth.

  • T

    Terrier ParentMar 8, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    Drew Copeland, you sound like a model of integrity. I hope your fellow Terriers can see that. You seem to have endless patience, courage, and resolve. I, too, wish Wofford had adopted your recommendations because the girl who verbally assaulted you could have learned a lot. I hope she seeks counseling to learn from this incident. Changing her story and lying was a classic coward’s response to getting caught. One huge issue was left unresolved in this article: alcohol. I hope Wofford and her parents get her into alcohol awareness counseling immediately.

  • S

    SaraMar 7, 2017 at 11:08 pm

    I’m sorry this happened to you, Drew. Thank you for continuing a paramount fight against the intolerable and for not being silenced. You are a valuable and valued member of the Wofford community.

  • S

    SavannahMar 7, 2017 at 10:51 pm

    Great job I’m so proud of you Drew for bringing this issues to light on campus even though you didn’t receive as much support in the beginning! Thanks for making a change Mr. Wofford. Hopefully change can come from this and not only complaints.

  • V

    VickieMar 7, 2017 at 9:16 pm

    While this has been our reality, it truly saddens me that this continues. The sweeping under the rug days should be long gone. The Administration must understand that if they are going to ‘talk the talk’ it requires walking the walk.

    • L

      Lawrence A. ChappellMar 8, 2017 at 8:06 am

      Please understand that not everyone from “a part of the country” that this is more acceptable feels this way. I grew up in Central Alabama and I was never taught this by my parents nor did I partake in such vile rhetoric. This is disgusting and wrong. Yes, I agree that this should have been a teaching moment. Unless people are exposed to acceptable behavior they will never learn differently.

      I never understood why minority’s felt this way because I never felt this way toward anyone. I felt others felt as I did. As a Caucasian male raised in the Deep South 71 years ago I apologize for those of my race who fail to recognize that we are all of the human race.