UPDATE: We’ve added a quote from Tamia Parsons, who posted about Von Almen, below. We’ve also added a quote from Avery Beckius, who was denied usage of a Pacific University Swim Team account to post about the Black Lives Matter movement.
On Monday evening, June 1st, Syracuse student Tamia Parsons posted a video on Twitter of former Pacific student and athlete Hayden Von Almen using a racial slur in reference to his roommate. In the tweet, Parsons mentioned that she went to high school with Von Almen in California.
“remember when hayden von almen who i went to hs with and plays football at pacific university in oregon decided to call his roomate (sic) a nigg*r,” Parsons posted. The video shows Von Almen doing a Matthew McConaughey impression, saying “We got a n****r here. It’s okay, he likes it. He likes being called it” before approaching his roommate and secretly filming him in his room.
In response to the video, which according to Parsons was originally posted by Von Almen “around november 2019,” many on Twitter took to criticizing and bringing the University’s attention to the actions of the student.
“these are the kind of people you invite to attend your school?” one user wrote. “to harass other students? to play football?”
The video quickly caught the attention of Ryan Kimberly, a supervisor with Campus Public Safety, who immediately reached out to Parsons and offered his assistance by providing reporting resources and notifying the Dean of Students and Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer. Both a Bias Incident Report and CPS Incident Report have since been filed.
“We take issues like this very seriously,” said Kimberly. “Any racism, hate or other bias runs counter to the mission of our university and is toxic to our community. Hate in any form will not be tolerated.”
President Leslie Hallick issued an official statement Tuesday saying that Pacific University “absolutely condemns this behavior” and that any allegations of discrimination by faculty, staff, and students are thoroughly investigated. She also encouraged students and community members to report any similar incidents via the school’s Bias and Hate Incident Reporting System.
Though Pacific tries to address these issues when brought to their attention, Parsons is all too familiar with the same dangerous and racist rhetoric and behavior such as Von Almens on her own college campus.
“I currently attend Syracuse University which has had many incidents this past year of racially motivated hate crimes and bias incidents that the school has neglected to deal with correctly,” Parsons said. “I have come to realize many schools across the nation try to do what is best to cover their own tracks and continue to bring in students and keep the same revenue. There needs to be more focus on students’ safety first and foremost.”
The surfacing of this video comes in the midst of protests across the country against rampant racism and police brutality. The string of protests first began in Minneapolis, Minn. following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneappolis Police, when an officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes while he was already in handcuffs.
Floyd’s death is just the latest example of Black men and women who have been killed at the hands of police across the nation. On Sunday, May 31st, President Hallick released a “Message of Commitment and Demand for Change” regarding the protests and Black Lives Matter movement.
“As we are dealing with the consequences of months of social and economic isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the disproportionate impact of this pandemic on people of color in our community, now we are also witnessing continued, shameful acts of violence against people of color,” she wrote. “This is not acceptable.”
Hallick’s message expressed the University’s duty to “be a voice of change, however imperfect, and to speak up when needed and bear witness to cruel injustice.” She brought attention to University resources, including the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, as well as the Student Counseling Center to “support [students] through processing the range of emotions, trauma, and grief that may be arising during this time.”
In addition, Hallick provided a list of recommended reading–including Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Race–to encourage students “to commit to learning more about the impacts of racial inequality and the actions that can be taken to dismantle racism.” See the full letter and recommended reading list here.
Hallick is not the only member of Pacific University to make a statement about the current political climate. Student Avery Beckius used her Twitter platform to make a statement for herself, and the Pacific swim team, stating that, “On behalf of the Pacific University swim team: we can’t fully understand your experiences, but we see you and we stand with you.” At first, the university wouldn’t allow her to use the official Twitter account for the team, but the problem has been quickly remedied. “Thankfully, the athletic department heads now recognize just how important it is to use their platform as a way to show support on a more widespread basis,” said Beckius. “The incident was more than cleared up in my opinion.”
Beckius also went on to explain that Pacific has made multiple statements since then, and that they have projects in the works that will better support the BLM movement and any future movements that may spring up.
In remembrance of Floyd, his family, and community, Pacific University will be holding a virtual vigil on Zoom Thursday, June 4 from 6-7 p.m.
Photo: Protesters in Portland lie down for nine minutes June 2 to protest the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police. Police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, killing him. Protesters’ faces have been blurred to protect their identities (Rev. Chuck Currie)
Ella Cutter is a senior staff writer for the Index. She is currently pursuing degrees in journalism and editing and publishing, and also works for the downtown Portland indie press zines + things.
Bren Swogger is a journalism major at Pacific University Class of 2021. They currently live in Oregon City, OR. They are the creator of Indie/Alt Magazine, and also write for Vortex Music Magazine in Portland.