14 vehicles vandalized among a series of other recent racist incidents in Grinnell


Nick El Hajj, News Editor

This article includes a description of an anti-Black slur.

Racist vandalism and racial slurs yelled from cars have joined a series of over a dozen recent incidents of racism that have rattled the Grinnell College community.

Kenn Anderson `24 was the first student to report the campus vandalism on Sunday, Oct. 9. Anderson, a Black student at the College, saw the markings on a campus map near the Harris Center.

“It was the n-word with a hard ‘er’ and then it was KKK and then it was a penis. It was written in big red letters,” said Anderson.

Anderson took a photo and sent it in an email to Anne Harris, president of the College, urging her to take action.

Harris replied to Anderson’s email shortly after. “I’m treating your message about this vile act as an official report,” wrote Harris. “You are absolutely right, it is wrong and must be addressed with urgency.”

At 10 p.m. on Sunday, Campus Safety first responded to the racist graffiti on a campus map, according to Director of Grinnell Campus Safety James Shropshire.

The next morning, campus safety officers located 14 vehicles vandalized in a similar manner in the Rathje Hall and the Bear Athletic Center parking lots. At around 8:30 a.m. on Monday, Campus Safety received additional reports of sidewalk graffiti and vandalism of a yield sign nearby.

The incidents of racism continued into Tuesday Oct. 11, according to Shropshire, when students alerted Campus Safety of hateful and racial slurs being yelled at students out of a vehicle traveling eastbound on 8th Street and near the Joe Rosenfield Center at 9:17 p.m. The caller described the vehicle as smaller, brown or black and with four doors, according to Shropshire in an email to the S&B.

Later that night, Campus Safety received another alert at 10:09 p.m. about racial slurs being yelled out of a vehicle on 10th Street near the Bear and the natatorium.

Campus Safety has documented all these incidents, cleared all discovered vandalism and patrolled the areas of the incidents in search of the perpetrators without success, according to Shropshire.

In an all-campus email sent out at 3:12 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 10, a day after the first reported incident of vandalism, Harris condemned the racist acts: “At this time, we cannot be sure who did this. This act occurred in a public area accessible to anyone. Campus Safety is investigating who might be responsible so that we will hold them accountable.”

“Personally, I don’t feel safe. And I know a lot of other Black students, especially freshmen, don’t really feel safe,” said Anderson. “I feel like the town is not safe, just like the campus. I don’t think I can just be Black on campus or in Grinnell, period.”

The recent incidents on campus follow earlier reports this year of students experiencing racism when out in town. A special campus memo email sent on Sept. 2 with the subject line “Taking a stand against racism” said, “We are writing today to report incidents of local harassment that have been relayed to the College since students arrived on campus.” According to the email, incidents have included anti-Black slurs and anti-Asian language.

“I remember last year, the racism came in waves. Something happened to one of my friends, then another one of my friends, then another one, and at the very end of the school year it was me. Racism is definitely a pattern here,” said Anderson.

The College and the Grinnell Police Department have already been in talks about racist incidents in the city of Grinnell. According to Grinnell Police Chief Michael McClelland, the College and the police department held their first “Community Partners Meeting” on Sept. 22 at Nollen House. Loyal Terry `23, president of Student Government Association, was also in attendance.

“Based on the reports of minority students being harassed by people passing by in vehicles, and such, the College administration coordinated a Community Partners Meeting to discuss actions going forward and how we can solve these problems as a community,” said McClelland.

Subsequent meetings will be held on Oct. 17 and 31.

According to McClelland, no official report about the recent incidents of racist vandalism has been filed with the Grinnell Police Department (GPD), but it was formally informed of them by Shropshire.

McClelland said the police department has nothing to share about further actions to address these incidents in the future. “We’ll keep talking about it. And we’ll come up with solutions. I’ve told the College that we’re at their disposal,” said McClelland.

Thomas Kriegel, Poweshiek County sheriff, said he has no knowledge of the incidents and has yet to see any report regarding the incidents on campus.

On Oct. 12, the College announced in an all-campus email the actions it will be taking. Thus far, the College has expanded 24/7 on-call transportation and escorts to students and temporarily closed 8th Avenue between Park and East Street with approval from the city of Grinnell. The College has also established a student patrolling force labeled “Neighborhood Watch.”

The email also said they will increase lighting around campus and install two construction lighting units. Additionally, the email listed expediting the release of Informacast Safety, an app that provides users with a ”panic button” feature that immediately calls for assistance, and installing outdoor security cameras.

Sarah Bryan `24 and Oliver Schoenborn `24 were among the first Grinnell students to sign up for a neighborhood watch shift. Their job included driving a golf cart around campus looking out for “people shouting slurs from their car, vandalism and vehicles flying confederate flags,” documenting license plates and identifying features, according to a printed manual given to volunteers by Campus Safety.

“I have a worry that this is not sufficient and that students need to put more pressure on the College to do actual things,” said Bryan. “In a situation where it feels like the College isn’t really being effective, it doesn’t feel like there is much else we can do to help.”

Anderson said, “The only reason that it [racist actions] keeps happening is because it is tolerated and because nobody’s getting consequences for it. I feel like because they keep getting away with it and it keeps happening, each time it’s gonna get more and more blatant, more and more aggressive, more and more criminal and malicious. I just don’t think it’s gonna change for the better and it’s worrisome.”

Anderson expressed that they do not trust Campus Safety or the GPD to address the incidents. “I feel more unsafe around those people. I’m Black. Me and police, that will never be a union, and as far as Campus Safety, they imitate police so bad with the cars and uniform and everything.”

“Non-Blacks will support us and say that they feel for us and they understand why we’re angry for like the first 12 hours and then the next day, they don’t care, especially since it’s not affecting them,” Anderson said.

In an all-campus email sent out on Oct. 12, Terry wrote: “Let’s make it known, there have been clear and explicit attempts by people of all ages to humiliate, harm, and discourage Black safety on this campus. This has ranged from being called a n***er, seeing Confederate Flags flying on and off campus, and being laughed at for trying to do something to secure this safety that is a right for many others.”

Terry added, “So, I ask… What more will it take for us to take action? Will it take another Black student to be yelled at by on-coming traffic, will it take more emails, or will it take my life?”

The Black Student Union (BSU) held a “Call to Action Event” on Oct. 13 at 4 p.m. in the atrium of the Humanities and Social Studies Center. At the event, BSU leaders stated that they will release an official statement and list their demands to the College following the event on the BSU Instagram page @gc.bsu.

“This fight isn’t for Black students on this campus to reaffirm the humanity we already have! Silence is complicity, so when forthcoming opportunities present themselves, show up!” wrote Terry in his Oct. 12 email.

This article was updated on Oct. 13, 2022 at 10:40 p.m.