National politics spur campus incident

Kerry Healey in the center with Wellesley College and Babson students.

by Rama K. Ramaswamy

An incident at Wellesley College has residents talking - as they are across the country - about the deep divides exposed by the recent presidential election.

Just ten days post-election, the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded 867 cases of hateful harassment or intimidation in the United States. SPLC President Richard Cohen said: “they’ve been everywhere -- in schools, in places of business like Walmart, on the street.”

Then-President-elect Trump said, in response, that he was “so saddened” to hear about these incidences perpetrated by “some of his supporters against minorities.” President Trump addressed CBS’ ’60 Minutes’: “If it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: stop it.”

This came on the heels of a Wellesley-Babson College incident wherein two individuals were removed from the campus after having been stopped by Lisa Barbin, chief of WC campus police, from driving around in a pickup truck and waving a pro-Donald Trump flag.

According to observers and campus black student organizations, at one point, the two college campus interlopers had parked outside a meeting house for black students, and spat at a black female student.

Barbin said that the “disruptive” duo were asked to leave the college campus immediately and without further incident. “This afternoon, there were reports of two disruptive individuals driving through campus in a pickup truck with a Donald Trump flag,” Chief Barbin wrote. “We want you to know that College leadership, Campus Police, and Wellesley Town Police were informed, and the individuals were asked to leave College property without incident. As always, your safety is our first priority.” In the aftermath of ejection by Wellesley College police, the two students-drivers bragged about their expedition in a video, viewed widely over social media.

According to a Facebook post by a student, the individuals “laughed, screamed and sped around campus. Then, they parked in front of the house for students of African decent, and jeered at them, screaming ‘Trump’ and ‘Make America Great Again.’ When one student asked them to leave, they spit in her direction.” She added, “this is Trump’s America… This is what he has provoked.”

The Trump-supporting students were later identified as attendees of proximally-located Babson College, and much to the credit of Babson and its President, Kerry Healey, an immediate statement for support for Wellesley College and all its students was issued; as was a follow up investigation.

In connection to this particular incident, Babson received 40 bias incident reports and numerous phone calls, emails, and social media comments, prompting Healey to reiterate her message: “As a community that both values and stands for civility, respect, diversity, and inclusiveness, the behavior we are learning about is of serious concern. It is not in keeping with the high standards to which we hold ourselves as members of the Babson community and certainly is in no way a reflection of the overall integrity of Babson students.”

Healey and her colleagues at Babson organized “an evening of gratitude and reflection on the importance of community” for Wellesley College students to come over and feel welcome.
“Our students spoke beautifully about their experiences as members of Babson’s unique global community- demonstrating strength, grace and leadership,” Healey said. “The voices of our students ground us, guide us, and refocus us on our mission to educate entrepreneurial leaders who create great social and economic value everywhere.” In the meantime, Babson students dubbing themselves “Students and Alumni Against Hate” started a petition to expel their two classmates, with upwards of 4,900 signatures to date.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which advocates for free speech rights on college campuses, welcomed the final decision by Babson College to clear the two students of any disciplinary violations stemming from their controversial drive through Wellesley College, according to their lawyers. According to Ari Z. Cohn, director of the Foundation’s individual rights defense program, “while Babson College is not bound by the First Amendment, its policies expressly recognize the importance and value of free speech.”

The women on Wellesley College campus who witnessed and felt targeted by the incident in question expressed disappointment by the verdict in this case. “For people that look like me, our struggle continues,” said one Wellesley College student.

The two Babson students denied the use profanity, slurs or spitting. Shortly after the incident, they posted an apology on Facebook. Parker Rand-Ricciardi and Edward Tomasso said respectively: “[My] insensitive celebration of the Trump victory was an extremely poor choice, plain and simple,” and “[I] hurtfully displayed a flag that symbolizes fear for many people, and my actions caused pain.”

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