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Cornell College Students Feel Unsafe After Anonymous Anti-Latino Incidents

Anti-Latino sentiment has been a part of the experience of many people across the United States. In Iowa, the Perry community has seen its fair share of explicit discrimination directed towards the close to 40% of Latino that inhabit the town. It seems that since the day that Donald Trump announced his run for the President of the United States, things have only escalated. The first act of discrimination that caught the attention of national media occurred in April of last year where a man yelling “USA, English Only” was removed from a kindergarten concert that featured bilingual interpreters. Then, less than a year later, at a high school basketball game in Perry, students from the opposing team fans expressed disrespectful attitudes towards the players of Latino descent, chanting “Trump, Trump, Trump.”

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WallJust two and a half hours away, in Mt. Vernon, IA, students on Cornell College’s campus are also getting national recognition for the bias-motivated incidents. Just a few weeks ago, Sanjuanita “Sam” Martinez, a senior at Cornell College spoke out about the incidents on her campus. Ms. Martinez is one of several students that felt targeted by anonymous anti-Latino graffiti that read “Build a wall, make it tall.” Later, a student found another hateful message in a dormitory bathroom that read “If I could deport you myself, I would.” What drove Ms. Martinez and her peers to speak out were fueled by lack of action from the school’s administration. She spoke out against the administration’s initial response of the messages simply being a form of free speech, stating “free speech does not equal hate speech and we as people of color, have not felt marginalized, we are marginalized.”
Several other Cornell students expressed concern for their safety and of their peers after the string of anonymous attacks that have transpired. Angie Flores, 21, stated in an interview that she came from Los Angeles to Mt. Vernon to attend Cornell College in search of independence. “I’ve stayed out here since my sophomore year; summers and winters as well.” Initially, Ms. Flores said that Mt. Vernon and Cornell’s campus felt “welcoming.” After being asked how she felt about the campus after the graffiti was discovered, she said “I definitely didn’t feel safe… [I was afraid] that there would be an altercation…that’s what I was most afraid of.” The 2015-2016

Baltazar Mosqueda Lara
Baltazar Mosqueda Lara

President of Unión Latinx*—one of Cornell’s student organizations—Baltazar Mosqueda Lara, 23, agreed with Ms. Flores, stating, “[I] fell in love with Cornell because it felt welcoming. It’s a place where I feel that it is safe, but there are things right now that do make people feel unsafe.” Both students brought up the fact that the administration has called for more of Mt. Vernon Police presence will help students feel more protected. Mr. Mosqueda Lara is grateful to have allies on campus, including other students of color. Additionally, over 70 members of the Cornell College faculty and staff have shown their support for all students on campus in an open letter stating:
“[…] Anonymous hateful declarations written in the bathroom were done in a manner that contradicted [Cornell College’s] educational priorities, and rather than encourage a rational and reasonable debate of ideas, sought to instill fear, bully the Latino population, and encourage segregation of persons and ideas. […] The Spanish Department stands in uniform condemnation of such tactics […].”
In a display of solidarity, these students have come together to make thoughtful suggestions for improving the campus climate and Cornell’s response to future potential instances of harassment, including but not limited to:
• To establish a protocol to improve all campus communications if similar situations arise in the future,
• To hire and/or train an all campus ombudsperson;
• To improve on Campus Security, and coordination between Campus Security and the Mount Vernon Police Force; and
• To hold effective mandatory campus-wide diversity training for all employees, new and returned students at the beginning of next year (not online)
We understand that the administration, faculty, and staff are already working to develop some of these policies, yet we urge them to act speedily to implement them as soon as possible. We trust that upon the successful enactment of these measures, we will move closer to healing our community and realizing in full the goals outlined in our mission statement and core values.”

*(pronounced “latín-ex” gender-neutral word to replace ‘Latinos’)

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