DURHAM, N.H. — A year after a video showing White students wearing ponchos and sombreros at Cinco de Mayo celebrations angered students of color and set off a series of racist incidents, a University of New Hampshire task force announced some recommendations and steps they’ve taken to address concerns about racism, including hoping the Mexican holiday turns into a day of community service.
The group, made up of 40 university administrators, staff, students, law enforcement and other community members, released its report last week, in response to complaints about offensive actions during the parties last year. A few days after Cinco de Mayo, the university held a town meeting where hundreds of students recounted their experiences with racism on campus and challenged the president to take action. Not long after, graffiti of swastikas and racial slurs were found on campus. Sculptures installed to show solidarity with minority students in the midst of the controversy were vandalized.
“We believe that our work has created a structure and process to allow our university community to continue to make progress on these important issues,” said Jamie Nolan, associate vice president of community, equity and diversity at the university and task force chair. “We recognize that this is one step of many yet to be taken.”
More than a dozen demands from the school’s Black Student Union were presented to UNH President Mark Huddleston at that same town meeting. Almost a year later, the task force spoke to how they are working to meet those demands in the report. The group recommended incorporating social justice training across campus and in the classroom. The school said more than 2,000 UNH employees have already undergone diversity training since last year.
It has also led to the recommendation of a permanent presidential advisory council to address campus climate. And, the report suggested the university do more to attract more diverse students; 9 percent of students enrolled in 2015 were students of color.
One of the demands requested a mandatory four-credit social justice course requirement. The university added a diversity initiative to an introductory English course for freshmen, where instructors would undergo diversity training twice a year.
But some task force members said more needs to be done to improve the climate for students of underrepresented backgrounds.
“My peers and I feel that a lot of the responses to the demands were twisted in some way to make it look like a lot of progress has been made, but they only told half the story,” said Josefina Ondo-Baca, a 22-year-old student who served on the panel and is a member of the Latino student group, MOSAICO.
Others questioned how calls for community service, pop-up art exhibits and a charity run planned for this Cinco de Mayo would dissuade students from partying all day. The school is not planning to restrict the parties or limit what students can wear for the day, citing the First Amendment.
“It’s a noble idea, but if that’s their goal, a day of service probably wouldn’t target the right audience of people,” said George Bolosky, a 22-year-old senior who is not a task force member. “A lot of the people who will participate wouldn’t have been out partying on Cinco, anyway.”
But John Kirkpatrick, the university’s dean of students, said he was hopeful students would come to think of Cinco de Mayo, a holiday recognizing the victory of the Mexican army over the French army at the Battle of Puebla, as something more than another reason to get drunk.
“I can’t think of a better way to turn a toxic day that’s about getting drunk because there’s nothing else to do, into serving the community and channeling that energy into something positive,” Kirkpatrick said.