Student reports being the target of a racial slur on campus

Rodney Adams ’21 says that a white student used a racial slur in reference to him and his friend last night, only hours after over 500 students gathered in remembrance of Breonna Taylor.

By Jake Gaughan

The intersection between College Street and HMKL Way is where the incident occurred, according to Rodney Adams ’21. (Bochu Ding)

A day of resistance and solidarity was soured by the actions of a pair of students behind Ross last night. Rodney Adams ’21 and Jameel Uddin ’22 were preparing for a relaxing evening after a day of protesting when two white students confronted and harassed them with a racial slur, according to Adams.

Per a campus-wide email from Chief Diversity Officer Miguel Fernández, one of the two students has come forward to the college and is speaking to the Department of Public Safety and Student Affairs.

At around 10 p.m., Uddin and Adams were walking along the north side of College Street turning right into HMKL Way behind Ross. They were approached by two white students walking towards Ridgeline and the townhouses: one was clothed, wearing a gaiter and carrying a traffic cone; the other was shirtless and maskless. 

Initially, the masked man warned Adams about carrying alcohol outside as Public Safety officers were in the area. Adams, who is 21 and was carrying a closed bottle of wine, replied, “Okay, thank you.” 

The other man, without a mask, then quickly approached Adams and Uddin and said, “Well look here goes them n******.” The man then stared down Uddin, who is South-Asian, and Adams, who is Black. Adams asked the man to repeat what he had said and to identify himself.

“He wanted a response,” Adams said in an interview with The Campus. “And it took everything out of us to not hit him.”

The other man, with the traffic cone still in tow, then called out, “Charlie, Charlie, c’mon, it’s time to go.” Both students then walked off towards the Ridgeline Suites. 

About an hour after the incident, Adams posted a Twitter thread detailing the event titled, “Experiencing a hate crime first hand on Middlebury’s Campus a thread:”. The tweets quickly went viral, with students reposting screenshots of the tweets to their Instagram stories and professors and alumni replying to Adams’s original tweet. At time of publication, the top tweet in the thread had amassed over 200 retweets and close to 500 likes. Popular Instagram account @dearpwi, an account with over 31,000 followers, also posted screenshots of the thread. 

“We’re so mad that that happened to us but at the same time we’re thankful that it was us instead of anyone else,” Uddin said in an interview with The Campus. “It was great that it’s us and that we were able to tweet it and everyone came in support, which is amazing.”

“I wanted to get it down in writing and I wanted to share it because this isn’t the first time this has happened to me on campus,” Adams said. In his sophomore year, Adams had to confront a white student who said the N-word while playing rap music. “What I wanted to do by tweeting it was make sure that my story wasn’t swept under the rug.”

He said that his goal was to make sure that people are aware that these incidents happen even in liberal states such as Vermont. “And that if this does happen to you, if you’re a student of color at Middlebury, then you can have the confidence to speak up and the agency to say something and that the school will have enough pressure on them to do something about it,” he said.

In a tweet linking to Adams’ original thread, Professor of Political Science Kemi Fuentes-George wrote that the event was indicative of broader social hierarchies at Middlebury. “These same white students who are willing to call another student a “n*****” to his face — they take classes with POC professors. They gatekeep social events. They dominate sports teams.”

Compounding the pain and shock of the incident was the fact that both Adams and Uddin had attended the protest in remembrance of Breonna Taylor that had been held in town just a few hours earlier. 

Kaila Thomas ‘21, one of the organizers for Friday’s protest, was “disgusted” by the incident.  “I think it really just shows how much we needed that protest since clearly there is still racism on this campus, and there has always been racism on this campus,” she said in an interview with The Campus. “It’s a very clear example of why we protested.”

“We went to that protest, and we had such a great time, we were so happy about the turn out and everything, like that’s all we were talking about all day,” Uddin said. He continued, saying that the students involved in the incident displayed a lack of awareness not only of the events happening in Middlebury, but also a lack of awareness about the global moment. 

“Whether there was a protest on that day or not, sh*t like that is still going to happen,” Adams said. “It’s even more of a reason why we need action to start from the institution to say that this is not okay and that this shouldn’t be happening any more.”

Adams filed an incident report with the Community Bias Response Team (CBRT) on Saturday morning, and the Department of Public Safety has been in contact with him. 

In an email to The Campus, Fernández said that he was aware of the incident and confirmed that Adams had already submitted an incident report to the CBRT. When asked whether or not the incident would be investigated further, Fernández was concise: “We will definitely be investigating this matter.”

“If it was just a race thing, we don’t think [the administration] would do that much. [The exception is that] he had no mask on,” Uddin said. “That’s the only reason we felt like reporting would work… That’s what was talked about at the protest, [the administration] is going to do all that for Covid but not for racism.”

The college recently dismissed 22 students from campus after Public Safety officers discovered two groups gathering above maximum capacity in two separate Atwater suites. The students received their verdict on Sunday — three days after the incident — and had 24 hours to leave campus. 

“If we’re promoting a safe campus, how can students feel like they’re safe if actions like this are permissible?” Adams asked. “It sends a message that if this doesn’t go through, that all these initiatives that this college is starting is all for show.”

Adams grappled with the role that the incident — and others like it — plays in his life.

“It just goes to show you that no matter what, no matter where you are, racism penetrates all aspects of our society as human beings, and as a Black individual, this is something that I have to endure every day.”