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A University of Mary Washington freshman is facing college disciplinary action for disrupting community values and disorderly conduct after the school's student newspaper ran a story about a racially insensitive poster found in a dorm.
Housekeepers reported the poster to university police on Oct. 15, but Acting President Rick Hurley said he didn't know its content until reading The Bullet Nov. 1.
The poster pictured an emotional black basketball player embracing his coach and read, "Slavery Reinstated: Catch Yourself a Strong One."
At least 200 students and faculty members yesterday attended a forum on the issue sponsored by Students Educating and Empowering for Diversity.
A unity march is scheduled for today.
"This isn't the first time something like this has happened at the university," said junior Anthony DiRenzo. "It's just the first time it's gotten this much attention."
In a statement released an hour before the forum, Hurley said the incident was "morally reprehensible" and apologized for the school's late response, calling it a "failure of communication."
The "response was inadequate, and my office was not made aware of the incident soon enough," he said in one of several public statements in the wake of the story.
The poster violates the school's values, but it's unclear when "you ask how you prosecute for violations of those values," he said in a telephone interview.
Hurley will appoint a task force to make sure the rules are "as comprehensive as necessary to prosecute offenders to the extent legally possible when incidents occur."
Also, he's asking an advisory council to immediately form a university policy on how to deal with "bias-related" incidents. Some wondered why the administration didn't react more decisively to the news.
He wouldn't say whether the school's current policies will hinder its prosecution of the student, whom he didn't name. But he did say that the university must keep First Amendment rights in mind.
According to The Bullet, freshman Rob Mariani printed the poster. He was quoted in the Nov. 1 story as saying that it's not the housekeepers' "job to be offended."
In an e-mail to The Free Lance-Star, he said The Bullet misquoted him or took his comments out of context. The student newspaper stands by its story.
One student at the forum apologized for Mariani, saying the poster "was a joke in poor taste."
"If people were offended, he's sorry," the student said.
He accused the administration of having a "knee-jerk response" to the story.
Freshman Paul Carter, whom the article also quoted, later apologized for the incident, UMW housekeeper Roslyn Woolfolk said at the forum. She said she forgave him.
"We're a little community, and we need to just try to get along. Racism is old and we need to get new," Woolfolk said to a round of applause.
Hurley stressed that the actions of a few students don't represent the entire university.
"Our students and employees have shown themselves to be compassionate individuals time and time again," he said. "By not being afraid to confront difficult issues that arise around us, we can raise awareness of how acts by a few students can affect others within the community."Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402