Racial slur in Sheridan targets local student, leads to new cultural celebration

Oct 8, 2017 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

A Fremont County student is believed to have been a target of racial intimidation last week at Sheridan College.

College president Paul Young confirmed this week that a racial slur was found written on the whiteboard on a residence hall room door.

The room is occupied this year by recent St. Stephen's Indian High School graduate and Sheridan College freshman Whisper SunRhodes and her roommate, Braylee Armajo, of Montana - also an American Indian.

St. Stephen's social studies teacher Katie McCall said the students had been out shopping when the incident took place.

When they returned to their room and saw a racial slur written on their whiteboard, McCall said they contacted the police and notified campus authorities.

That action didn't prevent a repeat offense, however: McCall said SunRhodes and Armajo elected to stay elsewhere over the weekend, and when they returned to their room Monday morning they found another racist message, this one directed specifically at Armajo.

Native Lives Matter

McCall, who has known SunRhodes for years, said the students have chosen to respond to the incidents by organizing what they believe is the first American Indian cultural event on the Sheridan College campus.

"Instead of allowing these acts of hate and ignorance to bring them down, the two are helping create a new event, Native Lives Matter," McCall said.

"This will be the first time such an event has been held."

She said SunRhodes called her Tuesday to seek help organizing the event, which will feature seven student dancers from St. Stephen's.

"Our administration moved very quickly to support our attendance," McCall said, adding, "The best way to combat racism is through education and cultural understanding. This event seeks to do just that."

Armajo wrote about their hope for the event in a post online this week.

"The faculty and students need to realize who we are," she said. "This won't fix anything or get the person who did it, (but) I want to show the people who we are and maybe just maybe they will respect us."

The event is planned for 5-8 p.m. Thursday at the Thorne Building on the Sheridan College campus.

School support

McCall noted that Sheridan College also has been "very proactive" in addressing the issue. Young released a statement indicating the school responding by immediately reached out to counselors, faculty and staff, encouraging them to help make sure students feel safe and supported on campus.

He also noted that more than 100 people attended a "support event" held last week.

"We are saddened by these recent events and want to assure everyone that this type of behavior will not be tolerated," Young said. "I cannot reiterate strongly enough that acts of racial intimidation or race-hate will not be condoned on our campuses."

Law enforcement

After the second incident, Young said he issued a warning to the greater college community and requested the help of detectives from the Sheridan Police Department, who will work in cooperation with the Sheridan College Police Department to investigate the issue and determine who was responsible.

A racist action affects the entire community, Young said, and the college will be talking about longer-term actions they can take to "address possible systemic issues."

"I echo the recent words of the Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy's preparatory school, who in response to a situation at that institution said, 'If you can't treat someone with dignity and respect, then get out,'" Young said.

In an Oct. 4 letter to Young, Northern Arapaho Business Council co-chairman Lee Spoonhunter thanked the college for its efforts so far and said the tribe is "committed to working with the students, faculty, staff, and community to create an awareness of Native American history past and present."

"We are willing to com up and do workshops on how to avoid cultural appropriation and promote cultural awareness instead," he said.

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