UW-Parkside Race-Based ‘Death Threats’ - Starting a Conversation?
Michael Wilson
mwils249@uwsp.edu
When a black female student at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside was found to be the culprit of a racist ‘death threat’ list spread across campus on Thursday, Feb. 2, the issue—framed as a hoax—was said to have been put to rest. However, the student’s motivation to spread the list has deeper implications.
 
According to Kenosha News, the ‘suspect’ confessed that she had made the list with the names of thirteen black students, including herself, because she was not satisfied with the way a resident assistant (RA) had addressed a previous hate crime.
 
On Wednesday, Feb. 1, Parkside senior Aubriana Banks, who is studying criminal justice and ethnic studies, had presented an RA at her dorm with a set of rubber bands arranged as nooses. The issue escalated when on Thursday, Banks reported a second noose left on her door, this time with a racially charged hate message.
 
On Friday morning, the hit lists, which promised that the 13 students of color named were going to be killed within two days, had been spread. UW-Parkside authorities stepped up security, held campus-wide open forums and discussions, and began an official investigation.
 
By Friday night, the Kenosha Co. Sheriff’s Department issued a press release stating that a student had confessed to making and distributing the list. Because her name was on the list, the release declared the issue a “hoax,” ensured the community that security was restored, and noted that the investigation was ongoing.
 
The student found as the culprit is now going to be charged for the incident. “Too many people were frightened and upset not to file charges,” said a sheriff. Although the issue was put to rest, as police are unlikely to find the students responsible for the nooses, the underlying issues of racial intolerance persist, said UW-Parkside students on Saturday.
 
Shellya Rogers, who is studying Arts Management and is the current vice president of the Black Student Union (BSU) at UW-Stevens Point, said the sheriffs were right to charge the student. “I get her point,” Rogers said about the student behind the hoax in protest, “but it’s still against the law.” She said it was hard to justify disobeying the law, and other avenues to express her discontent or opinions should be exhausted before resorting to crime. “You can’t use racial tensions to justify breaking it,” she said.
 
“I feel that if we’re talking about equality across the board, then she should be charged,” said Seiquest Williams, a UWSP student and also a BSU member. She added, however, “This is not something we can just brush off. People are going to say, ‘it’s just a hoax, racism doesn’t exist anymore,’ etcetera.”
 
“We’re going to prosecute her, but where is the attention to the underlying issue?” asked ShaQuese Jones, also a member of UWSP’s Black Student Union.
 
Referencing recent hate crime issues at UW-Whitewater, and now UW-Parkside, Williams said of UWSP, “I don’t think that stuff happens here any more or less than anywhere else. I don’t feel threatened, but it’s definitely a personal thing—somebody else might have had a worse experience.”
 
“In classes, with professors, when I go out, I feel welcome and loved at UWSP,” said Rogers, who said she could not speak for other BSU members, and that her identity as an international rather than African-American student meant her experiences might differ from those of other students of color on campus. “Especially around the arts, because of what they can bring, the atmosphere is open.”
 
Rogers noted no one had expressed they felt a threat, as far as she knew, although some students had mentioned some mild signs of intolerance. “Nothing alarming,” she said, “just annoying stuff.”
 
Williams pointed that “assumptions” and “the little things people don’t notice, like questions about our hair” were the greatest issues at UWSP, in her view. “I think we need to spend more time talking about what makes people uncomfortable.”
 
“UWSP is welcoming to international and black students. I don’t know if it is the local culture, the faculty? Is it because it is intimate and small? Collectively, it’s a comfortable atmosphere,” Rogers said. “The Multicultural Resource Center has been very effective at trying to promote diversity and bridge cultural gaps.”
 
“BSU’s main mission is to educate others about our community,” and vice versa, said Rogers, noting it can be intimidating to enter settings where your ethnic identity is not predominant. “We don’t hate on people who choose to stick to themselves, but we try to bring them in, show them what we’re about.”
 
The Soul Food Dinner, the largest of several events put on annually by BSU, does just that. It is meant to “raise cultural awareness, bring people into what we experience,” said Williams. “It’s more important to show what we have in common, but we also try to celebrate our differences.”
 
The Soul Food Dinner will take place on Feb. 26, starting at 5:30 p.m. in the DUC Laird Room. The night will feature entertainment, poetry, and other surprises; tickets are already on sale.