Engstrom: Hateful speech is inexcusable

Posted on February 2, 2011By Heidi Groover

Racist posters hung around The University of Montana Music Building last week have prompted calls for more acceptance of diversity on campus.

Music professors spoke to classes about diversity and President Royce Engstrom sent out a campus-wide e-mail Monday calling for tolerance.

"We're still trying to figure out what was behind this," Engstrom said Tuesday. "We are trying to focus at this point on continuing to educate our campus community about nurturing diversity of thought."

The notes contained hateful statements and encouraged viewers to visit a related website, said Dean of Students Charles Couture, but he refused to give any specifics.

Engstrom sent a campus-wide e-mail Monday calling the messages "hateful" and "racially derogatory," but neither he nor Couture would specify what the posters said or toward what group they were directed.

Director of UM Public Safety Jim Lemcke said his office has no official report, but hateful messages spread on campus targeting a certain group or threatening violence could violate the student conduct code.

"If someone is posting offensive things that interfere with the learning environment then that's a problem," Lemcke said. "We would take steps to remedy that and correct that behavior if we find out who the offender is."

Couture said the messages violated multiple sections of the conduct code. He encouraged witnesses to contact his office or the Office of Public Safety. The messages were outside the bounds of free speech because they were "meant to instill fear in members of (a) particular group," he said.

In the e-mail, Engstrom said students and faculty should remember that some of their peers have been underrepresented throughout history and might face "special challenges."

Lucy France, director of UM's Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office and co-chair of the Diversity Advisory Council, said incidents like this should be used as teaching opportunities.

"A lot of people here are working really hard make sure these things don't happen and make sure they are kept as isolated incidents," France said. "It's good that they're not swept under the rug, and nobody's trying to hide it."

Engstrom said he hopes people will focus on encouraging diversity rather than on an isolated event.

"Unfortunately these occasional incidents tend to color all the good progress we have made as a society and as a campus," Engstrom said. "What's important is the ongoing reminder to ourselves to be considerate of others."

*Posted on www.montanakaimin.com