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Black students at Grinnell College respond to racist incident

More than a dozen cars and a sign at Grinnell College were defaced with KKK, the n-word and slogans such as "Racism 2024".

GRINNELL, Iowa — Black students at Grinnell College are speaking out after the most recent racist incident on campus. 

About two weeks ago, more than a dozen cars and a sign were vandalized with racist language. 

Loyal Terry, Ziana Benjamin and Thomas Nsereko with Grinnell's Black Student Union showed Local 5 photos which displayed cars defaced with KKK and the phrase "Racism 2024". 

A sign was also defaced with the n-word and images of male genitalia.

There are no recording devices on campus, so nothing was caught on camera.

"[It] makes students feel unsafe," Terry said. 

Terry, an SGA president at Grinnell College, said the only place he and other Black students feel comfortable on campus is at the Black Cultural Center. 

Benjamin and Nsereko both noted the most recent racial incident is not the first time something like this has happened.

They said they've experienced problems on campus or in town because of their skin color for years.

"Students being yelled at outside of cars, people also approaching students," Benjamin said.

Nsereko shared one experience he had while walking to the store. 

"A guy rolled by with his window rolled down and said 'don't think I won't smoke you right here,'" Nsereko said. The man also called him a racial slur, according to Nsereko.  

Terry noted because of what has been happening at the school for years, coupled with the most recent event, students within the Black Student Union created a list of demands for college administrators and the city to address. 

The list includes: 

  • Cameras on campus
  • Legal accountability for anti-Black hate crimes
  • Self-defense training and self-defense kits
  • Mental health wellness resources, including Black social workers and therapists on-campus/on-call
  • Required recovery days
  • PTO for Black student workers
  • Waived fees for transportation out of Grinnell
  • Required emergency town hall meetings
  • Mentorship resources
  • Know your Rights Camp

Grinnell College President Anne Harris described the recent vandalism as horrible.

"I felt our community had been violated," Harris said.

She noted since the incident in early October, they have been working to prevent this from happening again by putting in temporary lights, hosting listening sessions and putting plans in place to install camera. 

“We’re also working with the division of Student Affairs and the Student Government Association on a policy that makes it very clear what the cameras are used for, which is the accountability for crimes,” Harris said.

While some students are appreciative of the college being willing to take the next steps, Terry wishes these steps had been taken sooner, especially when smaller incidents of racism have occurred in years prior.

"It takes a village and it takes a community," Terry said.  "And we've been trying to build community where community wasn't ready for us."

Black Student Union created a GoFundMe to help students whose cars were damaged and raise funds to help them get through other similar situations may they arise.

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