Racial graffiti at Sonoma State University prompts new efforts for tolerance

  • Justin Bell, right, and Kamryn Rayson move their Black Scholars United table to another part of campus at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, on Friday, February 22, 2013. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

When Kamryn Rayson turned over the small piece of paper, left face down on a table at a dining hall at Sonoma State University, she felt that what she saw was an attack on who she is.

On the paper, a simple flyer inviting students to a Black History Month dinner hosted by the Black Scholars United club, was scrawled the infamous N-Word in a firm, flowing script.

Rayson, a second-year biology student, is an employee of the dining hall, where she tries to be a warm and friendly presence to her fellow students, and a board member of the BSU. She found the flier while cleaning up after the annual event, held Tuesday in the hall known popularly as Zin Caf?

"I was thinking: is that what they think of me," she said Friday. "Is that what they see?"

The incident quickly went viral on the Rohnert Park campus of about 9,000 students. Within 13 hours, student government leaders and the school's multicultural center, recently renamed The Hub, had convened a meeting that drew nearly 400 students and faculty to discuss how to promote tolerance.

"You could tell that people have been angry, they have been frustrated, they have been experiencing this," said BSU president Justin Bell, a third-year communication studies major. "And it got busted out in a big ball."

Participants at the meeting say members of normally separate groups — divided and defined by ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation — saw that they were united in their experience of what they describe as a nagging, persistent trickle of intolerant and offensive conduct by some members of the broader campus community.

Bianca Zamora, a second-year women's and gender studies major, said she was motivated to become the "diversity senator" in the student government this year after she attempted to hand two white students a flier for a Hispanic club. One of the students threw the paper to the ground, she said, and he pointedly said "I'm glad I am white."

Such incidents, she said, are rarely discussed outside of the discreet minority communities. Seeing the posts by Rayson and Bell, however, mobilized these separate groups, along with a fair number of non-minority students, to attend the meeting to discuss ways to promote tolerance.

"It's not right and it is continuing to happen and we don't do anything about it," she said, a condition she hopes will improve after Wednesday's meeting.

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