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After homicide, black U. of Maryland students demand change -- and get it

Holly Yan and Lauren Del Valle, CNN | 5/26/2017, 10:48 a.m.
For years, students complained, saying University of Maryland officials needed to do more to prevent or respond to racist incidents ...
Richard Collins III

(CNN) -- For years, students complained, saying University of Maryland officials needed to do more to prevent or respond to racist incidents on campus.

Then Richard Collins III was stabbed to death at a campus bus stop.

The death of the young black Army lieutenant -- just three days before his graduation -- spurred renewed tensions at UMD and prompted officials to roll out a series of new anti-hate initiatives.

"As we grieve the loss of Lt. Richard Collins III of Bowie State University, we must also act to combat hate and create a safer campus," UMD President Wallace D. Loh said in a statement Wednesday.

But even before Collins' death, the university has been grappling with a series of racially charged incidents.

Racist flyers, slurs and a noose

Tamara Adams vividly remembers the day she saw the white nationalist flyers posted on campus: "America is a white nation," it read.

"I questioned whether or not I (as an African-American) was welcome on the University of Maryland campus," the senior said.

Those posters went up in March. The next month, someone left a noose in the kitchen of UMD's Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house.

UMD police called the incident a "hateful act" and launched a "hate/bias investigation."

Student Alexis Ojeda-Brown refused to stay silent. Earlier this month, she used a bullhorn to denounce the noose incident on an open area of campus -- only to have students respond by saying, "Who cares?"

Many students recalled a fraternity member's racist email that was eventually forwarded to a university staff member in 2015. The email not only used epithets against African-American, Asian and other minority women, but also appeared to promote sexual assault by saying, "f* consent."

Senior Clarissa Corey-Bey grew up in the same county as the campus -- Prince George's County -- but had never been called the "N word" until reaching UMD.

But the simmering racial tensions boiled over after a gruesome stabbing death.

Senseless killing leads to change

Collins, 23, was standing at a bus stop with friends on Saturday when a UMD student, Sean Christopher Urbanski, stabbed him in the chest, police said.

The College Park campus police chief said the suspect was a member of a "despicable" Facebook group called "Alt-Reich," which spewed hatred toward blacks and other minorities.

While the motive is not yet clear, the FBI is investigating whether the killing should be prosecuted as a hate crime.

But the Black Student Union said enough was enough.

"This is not the first incident exposing the escalating racial tensions at the University of Maryland, and if the administration does not extend their actions beyond 'dialogue', it will surely not be the last," the group wrote in a statement Monday.

Two days later, the UMD president unveiled a five-part action plan, effective immediately. That plan includes:

-- Creating a trained, rapid-response team for any hate-based incident

-- Allocating $100,000 for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion "to support diversity and inclusion efforts that educate all members of our community"