Posted in From Kentucky

A Letter to Transylvania University from an Alumni [UPDATED]

Paola Garcia is a current student at Transylvania University, my alma mater, and a DACA participant. Recently, she was a victim of getting her Facebook profile posted to a hate group by one Taylor Ragg, also a current student. Ragg told the members on the group to “go report this illegal at my school bragging about breaking the law.” Garcia is now being inundated with harassment, and the University has done nothing to protect her besides a “meeting to discuss social media sharing” and that’s about it. And so, I sent an email expressing my displeasure.


Dear Transylvania University Administration,

It’s come to my attention that a possible injustice is occurring on campus. Recently, I discovered via social media that a current student, Paola Garcia, has been subject to an extreme case of harassment by another student, Taylor Ragg.

Taylor Ragg
Taylor Ragg (Right)

According to the information provided by Ms. Garcia publicly, she is a senior working towards her degree who so happens to be enrolled with the now politically heated and news media buzzword DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). As she’s been in the United States since she was two, she knows no other country besides America and wishes to remain here. 

Paola Garcia.png
Paola Garcia (via CBSThisMorning)

Mr. Ragg, as I understand it, then proceeded to post doxing information about Ms. Garcia to a hate group called the “10th Crusade Enthusiasts.” If you aren’t aware of what the 10th Crusade Enthusiasts stand for, allow me to explain. 10th Crusaders are groups of people who believe they are on a holy, just, and “patriotic” mission to wipe out ISIS and all radical Muslims from the Middle East. Over the years the groups have become steadily more radical and hateful, often overlapping with other hate groups. These groups often target those they perceive as “foreigners” for harassment, abuse, and other less savory things.  

Inline image 1

When Mr. Ragg posted to this group, he demanded a call to action. To quote from the screenshot, “Everyone go report this illegal at my school bragging about breaking the law.” 

[Editor’s Note: What I meant to say here was that by posting this call to action to report her he must’ve known he would open the doors for harassment and abuse to get thrown at her. On a group that’s known for its xenophobia, he can claim ignorance and his words don’t specifically say to harass her, but he must’ve known that would be a consequence of his posting her Facebook profile onto the group.]

As I understand it, that call to action [i.e. putting her profile up] asked others from a hate group that demands the killing of thousands in the Middle East to then harass Ms. Garcia.  This harassment –according to Ms. Garcia’s plead for help on YouTube – included images sent to her private inbox of members from the 10th Crusade Enthusiasts “threatening her with ICE” and sending “tips to Homeland security.” 

Under the discrimination policy crafted by the university to protect students, as I understand it. Here is the first line from said policy: 

“Transylvania University is committed to ensuring that the institution is free of harassment and discrimination on the basis of race, color, citizenship status, sex, age, disability, pregnancy, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, national or ethnic origin, religion or religious belief or veteran’s status or any other category protected by applicable state or federal law or local ordinance.”

Ms. Garcia claims she went to the administration to report this harassment, but was met with a negative response. Somehow, Mr. Ragg’s actions don’t violate the discrimination policy, which I find interesting considering the very first line in the policy states a person can’t harass another based on citizenship status. Ms. Garcia quotes the administration’s conclusion as, “Mr. Ragg posted your comment with a recommendation to readers about how to respond to it.” 

If that is indeed the response the administration gave to a student who was clearly under threat from a hate group, I find it quite disturbing then that Transylvania University would condone the behavior of Mr. Ragg. Allowing a student to not only call for discrimination and harassment, but even deportation of a student attending the university seems point blank against the non-discrimination policy. As I recall, violation of the policy would require probation or expulsion from the campus.

However, as I am only an observer to the situation, I can’t claim that I will have all the information at hand to make the best call to action myself. Ms. Garcia would like Mr. Ragg expelled, and such an action would be understandable considering she fears that her and her family could very well be taken away without warning thanks to Mr. Ragg’s post. I would call for expulsion if indeed all of his actions have met the criteria for violating the safety and well-being of another student, one who would live the rest of her senior life in fear of being deported or harassed before completing her degree. 

Please review this case, interview the students once again. Just so you are all aware, the 10th Crusader Enthusiasts group has been closed down. Ms. Garcia claims to have screenshots of all the materials she gathered to make her harassment report. I urge and plead with you to rethink how Transylvania University wants to respond to blatant racism and xenophobia. In the past, we’ve had a tumultuous history on protecting the minority students on campus, even though at the same time we have heroes on staff willing to battle a man who comes to attack students on campus. Whether or not Transylvania will continue to fight for what is right, I’ll wait and see. 

Thank you for your time,

Jessica Gordon


Response from the University:
Dear Jessica,
Thank you for your email.

Transylvania University does not condone or tolerate hatred, bigotry, bullying or harassment in any form and will address any such behavior in a manner consistent with our policies, procedures, and values as a University. We value every member of this community on the basis of their humanity, not on the basis of their ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or legal status. As per University policy, however, we cannot comment on any specific personnel or student issue. 

Thank you again for reaching out. We appreciate you sharing your concerns.

Michele Gaither Sparks
Vice President for Marketing & Communications
Transylvania University


The Kentucky Herald Leader has now posted ‘Report this illegal.’ Student seeks help after classmate targets her for deportation.  which includes an excerpt from President Seamus Carey:

“It is essential to remember, however, that the way we pursue justice is as important as the outcome we seek,” Carey said. “If justice is to be lasting, the means by which it is achieved is as important as the achievement itself. As a country and as an institution, we are governed by laws. These laws protect the freedom to express one’s viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are different from our own. Thus, there are times when our laws seem like an obstacle rather than a support. If we want justice to endure, however, we cannot succumb to frustrations that would have us break the law or violate policies.”

I’m not entirely sure what he means by this. Did Ragg violate the non-discrimination policy? Or not? What will happen now? Is Paola Garcia going to graduate with Ragg? I expect that nothing is going to happen, which is immensely disappointing.

I would prefer President Carey and his administration create a safer environment for Garcia, and see this incident for the violation that it is against policy. Claiming, perhaps, that it’s just a “freedom of speech” issue is understating the danger Garcia could be in thanks to this post and the fallout from their own decision. 


Transylvania University’s President’s Email to the Community in Full: 

Dear Campus Community,

Over the weekend, one of our female students posted a YouTube video asking the community for help in having another Transylvania student expelled from school.  The reason for this request is harassment she has suffered online.  This harassment has come from viewers of a website known for white supremacist sentiments.  These viewers responded to a post by the other Transylvania student that included a statement from the female student that she is undocumented. We have received reports that viewers of the You Tube video are responding with similar vitriol towards the male student.

Transylvania University does not condone hatred, bigotry, bullying or harassment in any form. We will address any such behavior in a manner consistent with our policies, procedures, and values as a University.  We value every member of this community on the basis of their humanity, not on the basis of their ethnicity, race, disability, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or legal status. Actions are legal or illegal, not people.

As I wrote last week in my message to the community, we fully support our DACA students.  We are doing all we can to make sure that Congress passes sensible, humane legislation so that our DACA students and families can move past the uncertainty they are currently experiencing.

In a recent post addressing the controversy of moving Confederate statues from Cheapside Park, I emphasized that as an educational institution, Transylvania is guided by the pursuit of truth.  We are also guided by the pursuit of justice. A Transylvania education is characterized not only by the knowledge we create and share, but the values that shape our character.  Bigotry and bias are not among those values.  Compassion, generosity, and justice are.

It is essential to remember, however, that the way we pursue justice is as important as the outcome we seek. If justice is to be lasting, the means by which it is achieved is as important as the achievement itself.  As a country and as an institution, we are governed by laws.  These laws protect the freedom to express one’s viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are different from our own. Thus, there are times when our laws seem like an obstacle rather than a support.  If we want justice to endure, however, we cannot succumb to frustrations that would have us break the law or violate policies.  The pursuit of justice is a long-term battle that requires insight, endurance, and resilience.  We are here for the long run.

I invited both of the involved students to meet with me this morning to discuss the uses and impact of social media and ways we might move forward. The student who posted to the white supremacist website has been in contact with our office but has yet to accept this invitation. The student who experienced harassment did meet with Vice President Sheilley and me this morning. We had a productive and positive dialogue with that student.  We will continue to work together with the involved students to arrive at the best outcome.  

Sincerely,
Seamus Carey
President


As of September 13th, Taylor Ragg is no longer enrolled at the university. Herald Leader’s Linda Blackford reports

“Spokeswoman Michele Sparks said senior Taylor Ragg left campus following a grievance process performed by school administrators. Citing federal privacy laws, Sparks said she could not say whether Ragg had been expelled or left voluntarily.”

Taylor Ragg has since deleted his Facebook profile (oh, the irony) and left with only one quote to his name: “the Herald-Leader is ‘fake news.'” The MAGA and 10th Crusader Enthusiast will be running around to find a new university to graduate by next May, so…good luck to him on trying to find a campus in Kentucky that didn’t hear about this whole situation.

21743343_2027113167302726_3237586612760575508_n

It could be that perhaps Ragg left because he himself was doxed. His contact information was spread around, which included his cell and home phone numbers as well as his home address. Paola Garcia had this to say about it:

On doxing Taylor.png

Garcia will still have struggles ahead and possibly backlash from groups for the incident along with the subsequent leaving of Ragg. Already, her YouTube comment section is full of the words “wetback bitch,” “cunt,” “filthy illegal whore,” and etc. With the press releases, the story will only gain more traction in the next six months with DACA becoming more and more of a political talking point, so I don’t expect the comments to get any better. 

So many, many things went wrong with how the university handled this situation. 

First, by ignoring the blatant violation of policy on targeting a student for her immigration status that was concluded as not a violation. It was, it’s the first line in the non-discrimination policy. How someone could look at that post and not find it a violation is disturbing, because it shows the administration must have a pattern of avoidance behavior for other violations as well. How many other students have come to the administration and received similar results? It seems to me the administration could do with some reeducation on what it means to protect minority students and perhaps even some better training on diversity issues in general. 

Second, the administration failed Garcia in supporting her with the harassment and her fears of deportation. This young woman felt so desperate for help that she posted a YouTube video, because the administration essentially told her she was on her own in dealing with this situation, a situation in which she was terrified meant dealing with a virtual angry mob and their subsequent abuse along with the very real possibility of getting removed from the country before getting her degree. Why didn’t the administration assure her they’d support her? Why didn’t they connect her to campus security and get her set up with a report (you can inform them you fear for your safety, I did once, long story)? She was left bereft and scared, so she reached out to outside of campus for help. The administration should’ve done better by her. 

Third, they wanted her and the one who brought harassment on her to have a group discussion, as if this was some playground kindergarten fight. Now I could be reading the President’s email he sent out wrong, but it seems as if he’s suggesting everyone sit down and talk it out. No, no, no, sir, you don’t have a harasser and their target sit down to talk it out, whether the topic be social media sharing or what you’re all having for lunch on Tuesday, you don’t have the harasser meet with their victim. Two separate meetings? Fine, but having the guy who wants her deported come in so both of them can get a lecture as if they both deserve equal reprimanding for wrongs done. 

He tried to get her deported, she pleaded for help, the two are not on equal grounds for a lecture or discussion. No to mention, yes Garcia is a minority student and Ragg is a white student, that matters, especially when Garcia could be in a room with two white males versus herself. That wouldn’t be a room she’d walk into expecting good times to happen, and she’d come in ready to be dismissed, belittled, or otherwise harassed again. Not to mention, while Transylvania University’s history of predominant whiteness doesn’t mean it’s malevolent or intentionally racist, there is a system in place that favors the white over the others just by virtue of legacy students and through “traditional” ways of doing things there. Garcia is at a disadvantage, and trying to make it appear she doesn’t is problematic. 

From here, I’d like to see changes implemented by the university that better support minority students, especially ones like Paola Garcia, as well as protect them from harassment. We’ll see how things go, but I’m sorry to say, I’m not hopeful. 


 *Updates will continue as this story progresses 

Posted in From Kentucky

A Salute to Transylvania University

I want to talk about a small campus in Kentucky. Established in 1780, its one of the oldest universities in the United States. Transylvania taught me how to not only have a voice, but also how to use it effectively. The professors engaged me in every subject, as it is a liberal arts institution, and so I became more aware and open minded than I’d ever hoped to become.

See, when I say engaged, I don’t mean they simply lectured and forgot about the students. I regularly talked with professors outside of my classroom. My friends at other colleges and universities complained they never saw their advisers or professors. Meanwhile, I constantly had access to both.

I talked with Anthony Vital for hours about how Wordsworth was an absolute traitor to the Romantic cause, and that’s why Byron was obviously the superior Romantic writer, if only in spirit.

I discussed with Scott Whiddon about the rhetoric of, not joking, dating sites and the whole language of advertisements in conjunction with selling a romantic narrative.

Martha Gehringer believed that I wasn’t a serious writer, but she supported my efforts in writing none-the-less, and thanks to her I knew about Strunk’s “Elements of Style” and “The Handmaids Tale.”

Elizabeth Corsun taught me to see through narrative structure, to read between the lines and see the history behind the words in a sentence.

From the Registrar to the whole Financial Aid Office to Herr Weber to Tay Fizdale to Mike Vetter (sorry I still became an English Major, sir) to President Shearer himself, I could pen a hundred different love letters to so many people on that campus. I even became a part of a Love Letter in a project helmed by Professor Kremena Todorova and Kurt Gohde. The love and support on that campus makes it one of the best places to learn in the country.

Every single moment I spent on that campus made me a better person, and I felt secure there to become that person.

And even outside of the classrooms, the staff were like family. I knew Miss Erika and Marcia from Jazzmans, the same Erika who is now also a hero. I got coffee and a lot of great advice from both of them, as they helped me through some tough study sessions in the cafe. When I heard that Miss Erika picked up a chair to wield off an attacker, I felt too proud for words. She was quoted saying, “These students are our babies. Nobody’s going to hurt one of them without a fight.”

I cried when I read that line, because I know she means it. She and Marcia are there for every student who needs them, in the good times and the bad. They are amazing women, and they are a part of what Transylvania so great, what makes it feel like a home and not just some dorms and old buildings.

I applaud Joy Henderson, how she stayed with the stabbing victim from the attack, holding the wounds until paramedics arrived. It takes a strong person to go into the fray to stay and help in an ongoing attack, not to mention courage. Her fortitude amazes me, as well as her caring so much for someone in need of dire help.

Campus security men and women are dedicated to helping students. You call them and they are there. These same people would drive me to my dorm in the dark of the night from campus parking and start my car if my battery died to go home for winter break. They tackled the attacker after entering the coffee shop, refusing to let him harm any more of the students.

To top it all off, President Seamus Carey assisted in the take down. Humbly omitting that fact from his letter to the campus, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelming pride that my alma mater chose this man to represent us. A man who values the students more than his pride and ego is exactly what Transylvania is all about.

I am so unbelievably proud of my alma mater. I know that perhaps current students might not feel that way, with maybe their sense of security gone. Yet, the swift response from the staff to security to the administration all coming together to stop this senseless act of violence is astounding. I have to respect the actions taken by all of the people involved, and also recognize that these people were heroes long before this news hit.

Many will want to talk about the attacker, feed into a vicious news cycle that wants to give more focus on the violence than the school. I refuse to be a part of that cycle. Call him terrorist or by name, no one should be given fame for doing something so horrific. I would rather focus my narrative on the people who mean the most to me, and the ones who deserve recognition.

Everyday, Transylvania University endeavors to be the best place for its students to learn. From the classrooms to the cafes to the offices, this university is built on foundations of compassion as well as liberal education ideals. Not all people have felt as secure as I did, or as welcome. Every institution will have its faults, but I can honestly say that Transylvania was the best choice I could’ve ever made. Even years later, I’m proud to say I’m a Pioneer.

Hail Transylvania, thine own are we.