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UMD, BSU honor slain student, look to address diversity on campus

The torch on the Bowie State University campus. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

The torch on the Bowie State University campus. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

The campuses of Bowie State University and the University of Maryland, College Park held a moment of silence to honor Lt. Richard Collins III, a Bowie State student murdered on the University of Maryland’s campus last May.

The pause came as the two campuses, just 10 miles apart in Prince George’s County, deal with a nationwide increase in race-based violence that reached a tipping point earlier this month in Charlottesville, the home of the University of Virginia.

“Lt. Richard Collins will be remembered by BSU and we don’t ever want to lose sight of what that tragedy meant to our campus,” Aminta Breaux, Bowie State’s president, said earlier this month. “I have met with the family of Lt. Richard Collins to express my sympathy and to let them know just that we will always remember him.”

Collins, who had just received his commission as an officer in the Army, was stabbed May 20 just days before he was set to graduate from Bowie State. Former Maryland student Sean Urbanski has been charged with Collins murder. He was a member of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation.”

Collins’ death, combined with other incidents, including a noose found in a fraternity house, have led the University of Maryland to take several steps to improve the racial dialogue on campus.

“For UMD, this moment signals a campus-wide, on-going process of reflection, dialogue, and action to reaffirm our University’s core values of diversity, inclusion, respect, and civil discourse,” President Wallace Loh wrote in a letter to the campus community Tuesday. “ The resurgence of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and their sulfurous rallies, are an assault on our nation’s most cherished ideals. We must redouble our efforts to respond, recover, and heal. ”

In his letter, Loh outlined several steps the university has taken and will take to address diversity on campus.

Among them, the school will begin to collect and publish hate incidents that occur on campus; create a rapid-response team to assist victims of hate on campus; and launch a think tank focused on campus diversity. Loh will also seek to elevate the school’s chief diversity officer position to a vice president level.

Last month, Loh appointed Roger Worthington as chief diversity officer and interim associate provost, a position that will be included in the president’s cabinet. Worthington has been chair of the Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education in the College of Education.

The school has also suspended use of the Maryland state song “Maryland, My Maryland,” which has traditionally been played before football songs. The song contains pro-Confederate lyrics.

“This University is our University,” Loh wrote. “We all belong here. Our diversity makes us richer. Our shared values — the moral glue that bonds our diverse community — makes us stronger.”

At Bowie State, Breaux also wants to see an increased focus on diversity and inclusion, especially in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville earlier this month.

Breaux noted that Bowie State was the state’s first historically black college and that inclusion and diversity are part of its mission of access to the public.

“It is a unique time for us as we are celebrating a new class, but also it’s a very unusual time in the history of our country and the history of higher education,” she said. “And so at that same time, we will be helping, we hope, to bring together our campus to stand firm and reaffirm our values and that includes our values of diversity and foremost, inclusion.”

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