UD launches $1 million diversity initiative in response to nonexistent hate crime

The University of Delaware announced last week that it will set aside $1 million to fund diversity programs, partly in response to the fallout last month over lantern remains that were mistaken for nooses.

The initiative was announced by Dr. George Watson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), during the State of the College Address on October 13, according to The Review, UD’s student newspaper.

“We have such a history of diversity issues,” Watson told the audience. “We’ve come a long way, but diversity has always been a focus.”

Watson said the decision was influenced by several factors, including the inclusion of the novel “Just Mercy” on the required reading list for first-year students and a subsequent visit to campus by the book’s author, Bryan Stevenson. However, he also specifically cited the conversation regarding Black Lives Matter that was prompted by last month’s “noose” incident, even though outrage over the alleged hate crime was quickly determined to be baseless.

In that case, The Review reported that “three items resembling nooses were found hanging from a tree outside Mitchell Hall” just one day after Black Lives Matter demonstrators had gathered on the same spot to protest a speech by gun rights advocate Katie Pavlich.

That afternoon, acting President Nancy Targett sent a campus-wide email announcing that she would host a gathering on campus to discuss racism at UD, but by the next morning, campus police had concluded that the “nooses” were actually the remains of paper lanterns that had been hung for Alumni Weekend several months previously.

Nonetheless, Targett declined to call off the assembly, saying in a prepared statement that “the sensitivity of our campus to this potential issue clearly indicates a need for continuing dialog within our community.”

The finding also failed to ease tensions among students, according to Delaware Online, which reported that many of those who attended Targett’s event felt that the non-incident had highlighted the need for increased diversity at the school, a message they conveyed with signs and chants invoking the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Diversity isn't something UD can say it's already achieved because it hasn't," sophomore Anima Agyeman declared.

“We are not here to attack anyone, but at the same time, you have to understand what is here,” added junior Obichukwu Maduka-Ugwn. “We all pay equally to go here.”

Watson said during last week’s address that while the million dollars has been earmarked for promoting diversity, the CAS has yet to allocate it toward specific initiatives, though he did remark that he would like to see the money considered as part of the university’s next strategic plan, adding that he hopes the administration will decide to become a financial partner in the initiative.

“I would like to see that students are feeling included and welcome,” Watson said. “But how do you measure that? How are we going to ‘move the needle’ of diversity? That’s what this robust plan of action is for.”

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