A submission article by Alfha Gonzalez

A student enters Townsend Harris Hall, the headquarters of the CUNY School of Medicine.

“Negro was here” was etched on a chair in a North Academic Lecture Hall (1/202), which is mostly used by students in the Sophie Davis Medical School program at The City College of New York.

Administrators contacted the facilities department and the slur on the chair was removed immediately. But that was not enough to calm the outrage of several students. Dani McBeth, the associate dean of student affairs, sent an email to students and apologized for the incident. He invited students to a town hall meeting in the Great Hall where Vincent Boudreau, the president of CCNY, would be present.

Students often sit in the balcony of the ceremonial hall to study and relax. It is isolated and extremely quiet. Sometimes, you might find yourself walking into the balcony area while an event is taking place. And that’s how we heard about what happened. On November 14, angry students vented to President Boudreau and the air carried the echo of their voices.

It became impossible not to listen.

You could feel the hot tension and frustration fill the room. I looked at my watch and saw it was 2:17 P.M. Students sat in a circle in the middle of the Great Hall. Boudreau strategically stood in the middle. His eyebrows frowned as he adjusted his glasses while using the microphone. He wore a casual sweater and pants leaving behind the sharp-looking, well fitted suits he usually wears. The rustle of papers made it hard for me to hear, so I moved down to the first row of seats. I could not see anything but the wooden railing of the balcony. But it was a fine place to listen.

The first clear words I heard were his, “In this school, there are no liars,” which made everyone on the balcony glance over to the middle of the hall. Everyone stood quiet, and looked around interested that the president felt so strongly about the racial slur.

Sophie Davis was created to provide opportunity for people often shut out of medicine. The school’s vision is to ensure a more diverse medical future. City College prides itself on the idea that it supplies a safe and accepting environment for all. On The Sophie Davis website it says, “CCNY is as diverse, dynamic, and boldly visionary as the city itself.”

The act of writing a racial slur undermines the efforts of the college to create a safe environment where people from diverse backgrounds come to learn and feel comfortable with one another. Jessica, a third-year student that wanted her last name concealed, saw the slur etched into the chair. She spoke slowly and thoughtfully, as if focusing on putting the pictures in her memory together. She even hesitated to repeat the words and breathed heavily before getting a single sound out. “I come from a place where I never felt safe or felt like I belong,” she said.

A portrait of Townsend Harris hangs in the corridor of gothic-styled building.

Jessica believes the college should aggressively search for the person who did it, and prosecute them because she says people like them “walk their whole lives acting a certain way, and thinking they’re right because no one punished them.” So, the slur does not surprise her. She does acknowledge that it has created more conversation and immediate action since victims, from her experience, often “just stay quiet, because who is going to hear us out?”

Whoever wrote the slur could be prosecuted for defacing property, and the college could accuse the person of a hate crime. While President Boudreau and Dean McBeth have launched an investigation into who wrote the racial slur, many on campus were unaware that someone did this. But when we went out on campus and talked to people, they became infuriated.

“I believe there should be some sort of disciplinary action for the people who have committed this kind of offense,” said a student who preferred their name be kept anonymous. Sources close to the president say the town hall was a wake-up call for the need to further promote the values of the institution.

President Boudreau believes the job of the school now is to assess what damage has been done to the intellectual and social community of Sophie Davis and figure out how to fix it. Boudreau wants to build trust among the students and ensure something like this does not happen again. In the meantime, while the investigation goes on, the person who did this is apparently still out there somewhere on the City College campus.

Additional Reporting by: Elihu Fleury

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