SHERIDAN — More than 100 people gathered in the Sheridan College Thorne-Rider Campus Center Thursday evening to show support for two Native American students who were the targets of a racist remark.
Freshmen Braylee Armajo and Whisper SunRhodes came back to their dorm Wednesday evening to find the remark written on a dry-erase board on their door. Campus police are currently investigating the incident.
Sheridan College President Dr. Paul Young said the college will “not tolerate events of racial intimidation and hatred on our campus, so we’re moving to try to rectify this situation just as quickly as we can.”
Young was in Montana Thursday, but said he plans to meet with Armajo, SunRhodes and some of their family members today.
“This is not a representation of who we are or what we are at Sheridan College,” he said. “We’re taking this extremely seriously and we’re going to be supportive to these individual students. Not just right now or for a few minutes or a few hours, but we’re going to look at ourselves … to see what else we need to do in our campus community.”
At the forum, black and white ribbons symbolizing unity and anti-racism were passed out to attendees.
Many students spoke, including Armajo. She thanked everyone for showing up, and said the support showed her that she does belong.
Armajo said she had “never experienced being hated for who I am,” but restated her intent to stay.
“I’ll still remain at Sheridan College,” she said to a standing ovation. “I still love it.”
The forum began with a few remarks from Larissa Bonnet, director of campus life and housing, about standing up to racism on campus.
“The only way we can stop these things from happening is to confront one another,” she said. “Talk about the issue, because that’s how we get awareness around.”
Bonnet passed the microphone to Leah Barrett, vice president of student affairs, who reaffirmed that the college has no tolerance for racist behavior.
Barrett also said audience members should look inward to try to change.
“We all need to understand the discriminatory perspectives that we all hold and the behaviors that we have and how it impacts people,” she said. “We all have to work together to heal.”
Jonni Joyce, the college’s criminal justice program director, then spoke for several minutes, becoming very emotional at one point.
Joyce met with Armajo and SunRhodes earlier Thursday.
“What they said to me was, ‘Why us?’” Joyce said. “How do we answer that? What do we say to them?”
She called the campus a family, and said those who wrote the racist remark don’t belong to it.
“This is not what Sheridan College stands for,” Joyce said. “This is not what I stand for. This is not what you stand for.”
Several Native Americans spoke, including Curtis Yarlott, the executive director of St. Labre Indian School in Ashland, Montana, where Armajo attended.
Yarlott credited the school’s quick response, and said there should be open conversations about the different groups of students on campus going forward.
Levi Duca, a part-time campus police officer, said the incident shocked him. He said those responsible for the racist remark were cowards, and told the students that they have the full support of campus police in preventing future racial incidents from occurring.
One student had a different, more controversial message. He said that talking about the racist remark gives power to the people who wrote it, and that it is better to stay silent.
This led to several responses from the audience. “So we sweep it under the rug?” a student asked incredulously.
As a result of the racist incident, Young said, the college will likely reinvest in efforts to try to build knowledge about the history of minorities in the area, in particular Native Americans.
Young said he couldn’t remember the last time there was an incident like this on campus. He also said that if the person or people who wrote the racist remark are caught, punishment can be anything up to and including expulsion, and that legal action was a possibility.