A Bloomsburg University student’s racial slurs captured on video mocking a slave auction inspired a campus protest and spurred calls among students of color for diversity, inclusion, safety and equality.
Swift public rebuke delivered over social media followed the surfacing of a video in which Brett Rebuck, of Paxinos, three different times said he was selling “n——s” and calling out prices.
Outrage spurred action and by Monday, plans were developing for a protest Wednesday that drew thousands, including Bloomsburg University President Bashar Hanna, to a quad on lower campus.
“This was the spark that we needed to get a more DIS campus,” Michaela Poulard, senior, president of the Black Culture Society, said of diversity, inclusion and safety (DIS) at Bloomsburg University.
“We want DIS but what we really want is equality, final equality after all these years,” said Poulard, a minority, before referring to white society. “This shouldn’t only be my burden. If you can carry some of that load with us, that would mean the world.”
In the video, two males, one of them a person of color, laughed at Rebuck while a female off-camera said she didn’t like what she was hearing. The video was filmed in a private apartment but was uploaded and circulated Sunday on social media. It remained on Twitter on Thursday.
The university fired Rebuck from his student job with the athletic training office, according to Tom McGuire, director of communications. Rebuck, a senior, remained enrolled as an exercise science major but faces a judicial hearing, McGuire said.
Sanctions resulting from such hearings can bring expulsion. The results of judicial hearings, however, are protected by federal privacy law, McGuire said.
Matthew Lassus, senior class president and a minority himself, said the video is one example among several recently that’s raised questions about student safety and diversity. He referred to the deaths of several Bloomsburg University students along with the unannounced and as-yet-unexplained exits of two minority administrators, former Vice President of Student Affairs Dione Sommerville and former Dean of Students Don Young.
“Am I safe here,” Lassus asked. “If someone is talking like that, that makes me not want to be here.”
“I felt disappointed and I was ashamed. It bothered me. That’s something you don’t joke about,” Lassus said. “That people think it’s OK to talk like that, it’s ridiculous.”
Hanna said he was proud of how students conducted the “peaceful protest” and said there is a unique opportunity to make diversity, inclusion and safety paramount at Bloomsburg University.
He agreed that diversity is lacking among faculty and staff, saying the rate is lower than the 17-to-19 percent minority makeup of the student body.
Leaders of multicultural student organizations met with Hanna on the eve of Wednesday’s protest. He said he committed to monthly meetings with the student-leaders. He also said he’s tasked the President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion — a faculty, staff and student group — to evaluate campus culture and make recommendations on how to improve on multiple fronts and not just racial tension.
“We need to make sure yesterday’s protest is not a flash in the pan but the beginning of a campus-wide dialogue,” Hanna said.
Steven Lopez, a senior, is president of the university’s student government association. He said the protest empowered the student body, something students of other universities could build upon.
Lopez said he appreciated that Hanna attended the protest and listened to students’ concerns.
The senior said the university would benefit by expanding counseling services and like Lassus, he called for greater representation of the student body in the university’s decision-making processes.
He said education and empathy are a must to achieve understanding when it comes to racial biases and discrimination.
“That’s the key thing: show empathy and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Understand that you may not encounter it but me, as a person of color, I encounter (discrimination) every day. We’re not asking to be put on a pedestal. Understand where we’re coming from. Understand we may not feel safe,” Lopez said.