Students, faculty and community members packed the Penguin Union Building’s auditorium at Clark College Thursday afternoon. The last days of winter quarter are usually spent finishing up final exams, but instead the Vancouver community college was holding a forum to discuss the recent spate of hate incidents on campus.
On Monday, several anti-Semitic flyers were found plastered outside Gaiser Hall. They depicted racist caricatures of Jewish people and referred to the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website.
A week before, Ndeye Astou Cisse was walking from her physics class when a car of five white men slowed down beside her. Cisse thought it was someone she knew who wanted to say hi. Instead, she was met with a slew of profanities and racial slurs before the vehicle sped away.
“My biggest concern is if they do this today you don’t know what they will do next time,” said Cisse, an international student from Senegal who is also president of the school’s Black Student Union. “It might get worse.”
These incidents are just the latest bias attacks at Clark College. White pride flyers have been appearing on the Vancouver community college campus since early November, including several handwritten "It's OK to be white" signs.
“It does feel like they’re escalating and it’s unsettling that it’s happening here,” said Loretta Capeheart, the associate vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion on campus.
Capeheart describes the posters as recruiting tools used by white supremacist groups and said similar incidents are being reported on campuses across the country.
“I think we just have to continue to stand up to it and continue to let whoever is doing this know that they are not welcome to do that here,” she said.
Capeheart led the two-hour community forum on Thursday, the second in recent months, where people shared concerns for campus safety and urged the college to take a stronger stand against hate crimes.
Lexi Peterson-Burge first came to Clark College in 2011 as a 17-year-old Running Start student. On one of her first days, a man approached her with swastika tattoos and gave her a white nationalist flyer.
Peterson-Burge, who is black and Native American, said these experiences started to weigh on her and she eventually dropped out.
At 24, she’s resumed her studies at Clark College and is a member of the Black Student Union.
“I have to wonder, what are we not doing that seven years later, I’m standing in the same position that I stood in at 17 as a student on campus?” she said.
Campus officials say the perpetrators have not been identified but there are plans to increase security patrols. At the meeting, Capeheart said the college is creating an advisory task force and will be looking for more opportunities for discussion and outreach.
“The biggest mistake is to ignore this because that is when it can grow,” she said.