Provost Fitzgerald might want racists here, but students don’t
This has been a busy week for NDSU students—there are the expected stresses that accompany the semester wrapping up and summer quickly approaching, and then there are the continued issues of inequality at the university and in the surrounding community.
But for those not in the Fargo-Moorhead area or on-campus, several things have happened this week to occupy the minds and hearts of many; from a question-and-answer with the Provost that left much wanting, to disturbing TikToks from a would-be Bison, to a hate-crime at a local religious center.
It might be hard for some students to find the time for finals, what with juggling intolerance on an individual, community, and institutional level.
Hear the Herd
On Tuesday, April 20th, this event took place in The Great Plains Ballroom. Advertised as an open forum where students, faculty, and community members could have their voices heard, the actual event turned into a powerful evening filled with student testimonies of the pain they have endured via other NDSU students or faculty, or even more disheartening, when they reported incidences and were met with inaction by the university.
Provost Margaret Fitzgerald began the event, saying, among other things, “You have a right to be angry, and we have a responsibility to show up, and build trust, and do the work to forge a path forward.”
And while Fitzgerald seemed well-meaning, as did many of the other members from the administration that were present, it seemed that this responsibility, trust-building, and work “to forge a path forward” was in the hands of anyone but the administration.
As students shared incredibly difficult stories of sexual assault, racial discrimination, cyberbullying, and lack of assistance from NDSU, they were reminded over and over again that it was the responsibility of students and staff to work towards fixing intolerance and rape culture on campus, and that the administration could do very little.
There were past and present students who were telling stories that were both incredibly powerful and incredibly vulnerable, being met with the question, “Why didn’t you report anything to NDSU?” And more often than not, the response was that these students had reported and nothing was done.
While the fact that such an event even exists is encouraging, it was largely organized by students. And attendees were repeatedly told that progress was being made, namely, that the annual 90-minute online session on diversity and equity was enough to train faculty, but more than this, that these faculty were now equipped to tackle these issues with their students.
For example, Fitzgerald would later say, “[T]he students I want most in my classroom are the—are the ones with these attitudes that are racist, that are, are against, different groups of people because of their color or their sexual orientation…[I]f we can’t get through to them on a university campus, how are we going to change that?”
Listen, saying you want racists on campus is not a good look, especially when the reason why is that you see higher education, and specifically an NDSU education, as the answer to racism and bigotry. Clearly, based on the actions of NDSU students this year and many years past, our students aren’t graduating as beacons of tolerance.
Regardless of the sound-bite Fitzgerald just gave to white supremacists that says: “NDSU wants you here,” what message does this send to students of color or students of different sexual orientations? Our Provost is so comfortable in her own privilege that she is incapable of seeing how damaging inviting racists and homophobes would be to students of color and LGBTQ+ students on campus, even if her words were meant as a quasi-plan for racial healing.
Individuals with bigoted ideas, by their nature, try to make certain people uncomfortable based on an identity they hold, and by welcoming these people to campus Fitzgerald just sent a message to anyone who has felt attacked, invalidated, or unsafe because of bigoted action that NDSU wants more of that.
Not to mention the fact that all of this was said without any real solutions on how to educate students, how to use higher education to get through to them, as she said, outside of handing the responsibility off to the same students who are enduring the bigotry she just encouraged for our campus.
Many of those there who were representing the university, though well-intentioned, didn’t quite seem to grasp the gravity of the situation or the expectations students would have of those meant to protect them. As they laughed through responses, students cried, visibly shook, struggled to get through sentences, and all with the constant reminder that not one question was likely to be answered.
I don’t know who could have left that forum recognizing anything but the backseat position administrators have taken to dealing with the bigotry on their campus and the duty they’ve given to students and faculty to not only direct the fight against racism, harassment, sexual assault or homophobia on campus, but completely lead it.
Incoming NDSU student’s TikToks encourage sexual assault, racism and transphobia
In the age of social media, college-aged students are constantly reminded how everything on the internet lasts forever. Despite this, Noah Cvetnic, a student who was planning on transferring from the University of Minnesota to NDSU to represent the track and field team on scholarship, seemed to miss the memo.
Cvetnic made a series of repugnant TikToks that were then shared through the Instagram page, blmndsu. The videos, which should be watched with care as they include content about sexual assault, were publicly accessible through Cvetnic’s profile on TikTok.
Among other things, Cvetnic made TikToks: insinuating he would drug and sexually assault women, joking about being a pedophile, suggesting he would kidnap children, a video with the tagline “Not to be racist, but…” (which of course was abhorrently racist), making fun of drug addiction, implying that unconscious women are a great target for sexual fantasies and two videos making fun of correct pronoun usage and gender fluidity.
Quickly, students outraged by the behavior displayed in the TikToks took action, sharing the video and demanding his scholarship and acceptance to NDSU be rescinded.
Despite Fitzgerald’s comments only days before that might encourage a student like Cvetnic to come to NDSU, clearly, students are not nearly as keen to have someone in their classes who would make women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and basically any decent person feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
Cvetnic did leave a comment under the video of the collection of his TikToks, saying “Hey mom, I’m on tv.” As arrogant as this response may seem in light of the severity of his actions, the track and field team has apparently taken away his scholarship, so I doubt he is quite as smug now.
Of course, we’ll never know whether action would have been taken without the widespread and public outcry, but thank goodness for the students who made that happen.
Vandalism of Moorhead Mosque
Over the weekend, on Saturday the 24th, the Moorhead Mosque was vandalized with derogatory names, swastikas, and the phrase “Death to Islam.” This hate crime is clearly disgusting and unacceptable, but the timing of the attack, during the month of Ramadan, meant to be a time of reflection, prayer, and of course, community, only adds injury to this already terrible situation.
A GoFundMe was set up, which has since raised thousands for the mosque, and on Monday, the 26th, hundreds of locals came together to clean up the vandalism and show solidarity for Muslim community members.
The outflow of love towards Muslims in the Fargo-Moorhead area was truly wonderful to see, as there is overwhelming support for this group of people to practice their faith, but of course, the heaviness of the initial attack and the recognition that there are those in the area with contemptible views is a wound that will not easily be healed.
The impact of this week on students
While this year has been incredibly difficult for all, the weight of this week in particular for students who are survivors of sexual assault, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, women, Muslims, and allies alike has likely been burdensome.
Students are meant to be working on finals or even getting ready for graduation—instead, they have to spend their time begging their school for protection, for someone to listen, for anything.
Without downplaying the seriousness of everything that has occurred this week, I will say, for every moment that has left students heartbroken or concerned, there have been moments of true goodness.
At Hear the Herd, students, faculty, and community members alike had the courage to speak out. While Cvetnic’s TikToks were deeply troubling, the pushback from students saying, “This is not who we want to be,” should give many hope. And even though religious and racial intolerance led to the vandalism of the Moorhead Mosque, the community showed up, cleaned up, raised money, and made an effort for its neighbors.
NDSU is not a perfect institution, obviously, and the Fargo-Moorhead area clearly has its issues too, but the voices of the brave, the tolerant, the loving, and accepting shined far brighter than those with apathy and hate in their hearts. This doesn’t mean there isn’t still work to do, but there are clearly people here willing to do it.
For those who feel unsafe, invalidated, ignored—there are people here who are willing to protect, legitimize and listen to you.
The Herd is more than just an amalgamation of school spirit, football game promos, or photos in the union. We are a mix of people, many of whom truly want this place we have invested our educations to no longer hold the legacy of racism and intolerance it currently does. More than this though, we want all students to not only feel safe on campus but truly welcomed.