The young white man who scrawled the N-word outside a student housing suite at the University of New Mexico last week has admitted his guilt and now faces disciplinary action.
His punishment will include a period of probation and an educational component, UNM Dean of Students Tomás Aguirre said Wednesday.
He and other university officials declined to identify any of the students involved in the incident.
Aguirre said he closed his investigation of the incident after concluding that the perpetrator’s writing of the N-word on a whiteboard outside the suite was not directed at an African-American student who lived there or at the black community in general.
That finding was based on testimony of the perpetrator himself and several residents of the suite, including Cinnamon Burton — the 19-year-old victim, he said. Both the victim and perpetrator have been notified of the investigatory findings and have agreed to them, he said.
Last Friday evening, Burton, a sociology major from Maryland, left the suite to do her laundry, the sophomore said in an interview with the Journal earlier this week. When she got home, she discovered the message, “It’s Finally here! Nigger. Today is …… FRIDAY” written on a white board outside the suite she shared with several white female students in the Laguna II building.
She said she was offended, frightened and humiliated, and immediately notified campus security.
Aguirre was also notified, and he saw to it that Burton was allowed to move to another residence hall right away.
Aguirre this week noted a generational difference in perspective on the use and acceptance of the N-word, how it is bandied about much more casually, in general, by younger people, regardless of race. He also said he believes in “restorative justice,” a theme he returned to Wednesday in explaining the sanctions applied against the perpetrator. “Restorative justice, this is a big matter for us,” he said. The perpetrator has to learn that his action, regardless of intent, impacted the victim, the other students who live in the suite, and the African-American community as a whole.
Also Wednesday, a spokeswoman for UNM President Bob Frank forwarded a statement from him to the Journal: “At UNM, we strive to create and maintain an environment that is free of harassment, intimidation and/or humiliation for all students, faculty and staff. Students have a right to seek and obtain an education without facing racial discrimination and harassment. Such behavior has no place on this campus and will not be tolerated.”
During the past year, three incidents with racial overtones have been reported to UNM administrators through official lines.
The following story appeared on page C1 of the Wednesday, February 5, 2014, edition of the Albuquerque Journal
UNM student: N-word written by door
Cinnamon Burton, an African-American sophomore at the University of New Mexico, was out doing her laundry last Friday when someone scrawled the n-word outside the student housing suite she shared with five other young women.
When she returned home, Burton said, she was offended, upset, embarrassed and even surprised to see the word written prominently on a white board outside the suite – even though it wasn’t the first racial incident she had experienced at UNM. She immediately called campus security.
Dean of Students Tomás Aguirre was also notified, and he saw to it that Burton, 19, was moved to another building immediately. Aguirre said in an interview Tuesday that he is investigating the incident, as are campus police. He said a suspect has been identified. He hoped to wrap up his investigation Tuesday evening, at which point he would make a recommendation to UNM President Bob Frank on the university’s next course of action.
“The student was obviously upset and offended by it,” Aguirre said of Burton. Tuesday morning, he was still trying to determine the suspect’s intent. He noted that there appears to be a generational difference in perspective on the use and acceptance of the so-called N-word, but he said, in no uncertain terms, “it’s offensive and is not acceptable.”
Aguirre said nine or 10 such incidents have been reported at the university since last spring. For that reason, he said, the Civil Campus Council – an office set up by President Frank shortly after his arrival at UNM last summer – will host an panel discussion at noon Thursday in the Student Union building titled “What’s Up My N?”
Aguirre and Frank have held three or four conversations about the incident since early Saturday, an indication of how seriously the president is taking the matter, he said.
His recommendation to Frank could range from a simple warning to expulsion. Between those two extremes are suspension, probation and an educational sanction.
Burton said she knows the suspect, whom she declined to name. She described him as a white freshman who lives upstairs in the Laguna II residence hall, where the incident occurred. She said she had never before had a problem with him, that they would always say “hi” and from time to time hold brief conversations. She said he had even visited her once or twice.
In her opinion, “the dean and everybody are taking the right steps to get to the bottom of this.”
Burton, a sociology major, hails from Bowie, Md., about halfway between Baltimore and Washington. She grew up in a predominantly black community, but nonetheless believed that racism had largely become a thing of the past. She said she even argued the point with her parents from time to time.
Still, she recounted an incident on campus about a year ago when someone drew a black stick figure hanging by the neck on a board outside an African American’s room.
But the first racism she personally experienced at UNM occurred in September when a few of the young women with whom she lived were watching a TV dating show. When a white man on the show chose a black woman to date, the other students – all white – began shouting and making negative comments about black people, she said.
Then, about a month later, Burton said, the same women were seen “more than once” running up and down a residence hallway screaming the n-word.