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Interview: UNR Diversity Officer On How Campus Is Affected by Hate

Alexa Ard

This semester, the University of Nevada, Reno has seen a rise in the number of hateful acts on campus. Our bilingual student reporter, Andrew Mendez, sat down with Eloisa Gordon-Mora, UNR’s Diversity and Inclusion Officer, to see how that has affected the campus environment.

KUNR: Dr. Gordon-Mora, you've been at the university for just a semester. Is it surprising to see so many acts of hate occur on campus?

Gordon-Mora: I'm not surprised, which is a sad statement, because that has been the reality that we have seen in the last few years. Reflective of the profound change in, I would call them democratic notions and democratic behavior, the kind of challenges to those understandings that have been taking place in the country and in many other nations and therefore being reflected in university settings. What has changed is the intensity of the occurrences to the intensity of certain presences of hateful groups, and hate inducing groups, the fact that more organized hate inducing groups are emerging.

How have these hateful expressions impacted the culture and community here at UNR?

In addition to the incidents we have been unfortunately experiencing, we know that we need to strengthen our sense of belonging to the university, meaning our sense of comfort, inclusion, sense of welcoming engagement. If we have a situation which in general doesn't manifest itself as having the sense of belonging, one would hope for (such as a hate inducing situation), it's going to increase your sense of lack of safety. So therefore we need to be on particular events, how to address the presence of the drawing of a swastika, the fliers that induce xenophobic anti-diversity messages.

[UNR] President Marc Johnson recently announced that he'd be stepping down from his position in June. With all these acts happening during Marc Johnson's presidency, what could he have done differently?

I think President Johnson has been quite honest and candid in his understanding of what he could have done better, and a theme that he has voiced that we all share, is the great desire not simply to talk and listen about [these] events; but be able to move into some level of action. I think that we have had a number of years of a learning curve that the new president, and in the transition of President Johnson, we're hoping we can build upon.

How have you personally felt with all these acts happening?

Well, I feel a great sense of urgency and commitment to the work that we can do and that we have to do. And as a political scientist and somebody who, from a personal, professional and ideological philosophical level, has always been committed to the idea of democratic engagement, I see the opportunity. This is an opportunity for us to strengthen our university community in its democratic values, and to serve as a bit of a model for other universities experiencing very similar situations. This work cannot be done without substantial university-wide allies.

Gordon-Mora has a few suggestions on what the campus community can do next:

  • Always report an incident to the University of Nevada, Reno’s Incident Reporting webpage. Gordon-Mora says it helps university officials get a better understanding of how many incidents are occurring.
  • Faculty and administration need to listen to student concerns in order to strengthen a sense of belonging.
  • Additionally, she said there needs to be an educational approach in combating issues dealing with hate and bias.

Since most cases dealing with hate speech are protected under the First Amendment, there can be no legal action taken, according to Gordon-Mora.
Gordon-Mora said students and faculty will begin noticing an update to the Bias & Hate Incident reporting summary webpage. Starting in 2020, the webpage will be updated every month, rather than every semester, as it is currently being updated.

As a note of disclosure, the license to this station is owned by the Board of Regents for the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Andrew Méndez is a former bilingual student reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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