Finding the Words to Tackle Hate Speech


As most people at Curry College already know, a threatening message was scrawled on a bathroom stall in the Hafer Academic Building last week. But, like many of the previous hate speech incidents that have occurred on campus in recent years, students are questioning the manner in which college officials and the Milton Police Department have handled the situation.   

According to the college’s protocols for investigating bias-related incidents on campus, the Milton PD is notified when a possible hate crime has occurred. At that point, the investigation is turned over to them. This is what happened following last Thursday’s incident in the first-floor men’s bathroom in Hafer. However, the college opted not to share the actual words of the threat with the Curry community, and declined to provide it to the many area news organizations that covered the police investigation.

In a story by CBS News Boston, Milton Police Deputy Chief James O’Neil said the perpetrator, who has yet to be identified, according to college officials, could face up to one year in prison.

This begs the question: Given the severity of the repercussions, why refuse to admit to students the true nature of the crime?

According to a source familiar with the details of the investigation, but who was not authorized to speak about it publicly, the threat read, “I’ll kill you all. F*** all stupid n*****s.” The writing was so large that it took up most of an inside wall of one of the bathroom stalls. 

In an email to the campus on Friday, March 1, President Kenneth Quigley wrote, in part, “As I tell each and every member of our entering class at Convocation, acts of bias are contrary to everything that Curry stands for. Simply put, they will not be tolerated on our campus and those engaging in acts of bias will not be welcome as a member of the Curry College Community.”

Although Curry has suffered a string of bias incidents and hate crimes over the years, it has been rare for President Quigley to personally address them. The last time he issued a personal statement to the student body was September 2017, following a handful of incidents on two consecutive days.

That email read, “As I wrote to all members of the Curry community at the start of the academic year and shared directly with our entering class at Convocation, ‘Hate Has No Home Here.’ Simply put, acts of bias will not be tolerated on our campus.”

The similarities between the two have left the impression on some students that the college is merely going through the motions.

“Because I already knew what the bathroom stall said, his email just made me more upset because it seemed copied and pasted,” said junior Kevelle Toppin. “Based on prior bias incidents, those emails we received last week felt very similar. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, but that was my initial reaction. And after the email, it felt like it was over and done with and no further action was going to be taken.”

Paul King, director of Public Safety at Curry, said his office and Milton Police were in agreement that the writings on the stall posed no “immediate threat” to the campus community. “If an immediate threat had been identified, Public Safety would have issued a shelter in place or evacuation notification to the community,” King said. But “given the nature of this incident, we decided to increase patrols.”

“There are many people in the Curry community who are working every day to make our community more diverse, inclusive, and equitable,” said President Quigley. “Just before learning of the incident, I was in a meeting with several terrific Curry students who were planning a diversity event. Our Student Government Association responded quickly when the incident was reported [in terms of] how students can move to action as part their “Let’s Talk About Our Curry” event. And, we recently had an important Black Lives Matter event on campus. I believe that when all parts of the Curry community work together to celebrate diversity and respond loudly to incidents like this, it helps diminish the impact of hateful acts.”

But Greg Estes, Senior Class president and a Criminal Justice major, said he wants the Curry administration to be even more proactive to prevent future heinous acts.

“In 886 last year, there were events that happened and they did put up cameras,” said Estes, referring to a residence hall. “They should consider doing the same thing in academic hallways.”

The college’s Policy for Responsible Installation and Use of Video Security Cameras on campus reads, “Cameras shall not be installed in — nor positioned to view through the windows of or entryways to — areas where individuals have a reasonable and legitimate expectation of privacy, such as private offices, spaces dedicated to health and counseling services, residence hall rooms, locker rooms, bathrooms and classrooms.” Cameras were first installed on campus for security reasons in August 2017, and, as Estes said, cameras were placed in the hallways of 886.

“I don’t see any problems with pointing it down the hallways to see who is going in and coming out,” Estes added.

According to King, the college continues to “assess such situations and determine priorities for additional cameras based on this incident and others that happen on campus.” He added that he believes common  hallways that lead to a bathroom is a public, rather than private, space. 

Cameras aside, Cotdell Tuning, Junior Class president and president of the Black Student Union, said she has bigger concerns about the moral compass of the campus as a whole.

“With all the free resources we have available to us, it’s surprising that people still don’t understand human decency,” Tuning said. “The way the issue was handled was insensitive as well….The black community [being] targeted is disappointing, but not surprising, because this college is an institution that is run by people who will never understand how it is to be a person of color.”

The words on the Hafer bathroom stall have long since been painted over, and in their place the college hung a flyer denouncing the act.

“We choose to remove vandalism, not to hide it, but in order to not perpetuate hateful speech,” it reads. “Help change the conversation and, in turn, make Curry College a truly inclusive community.”

But some students don’t want to change the conversation. They are eager to have it and to face the issue of racism head-on. To engage others in that conversation, though, there needs to be a more transparent accounting of the hate, they say.

The Department of Public Safety asks that anyone with information about the hate speech incident contact their office at 617-333-2222, or call the anonymous tip line at 617-391-5280 or email at

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