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SMSU, city of Marshall make joint statement against ‘symbols of hate’

MARSHALL — There are good things happening in Marshall — but acts in the past few weeks have threatened to overshadow the good, Kumara Jayasuriya said. Events like people wearing swastikas at the Walmart in town, and other incidents targeting new students at Southwest Minnesota State University, make a hostile environment for students and go against community values, he said.

It was time to speak out.

On Tuesday, Jayasuriya, president of SMSU, and Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes issued a joint statement condemning “acts of hate” in the community.

“We condemn all these types of activities,” Jayasuriya said Tuesday. It was important to speak up, he said, “So students, faculty and staff won’t feel threatened.”

“We want to clarify that Marshall is a welcoming community, and SMSU is an inclusive place,” Byrnes said.

The statement was sent to university students, faculty and staff.

“In the last couple of weeks, we have witnessed open acts of hate in our community,” the statement said. On July 25, two shoppers were banned from Walmart for wearing face coverings that looked like Nazi swastika flags. On July 30 an SMSU faculty member and university students of color said they were targeted by trucks gunning their engines to release a cloud of exhaust on the students. The statement said this was done to two sets of students by two separate trucks on the same day.

“We unambiguously condemn these acts and symbols of hate,” the statement said. “To the members of the Mustang family who understandably feel angry and threatened by recent events, we acknowledge your feelings and want you to know that your university and your community stand with you and against hate.”

“Nazi symbols are not welcome at SMSU or in Marshall. The swastika stands for hate, genocide, intolerance, undemocratic government, and aggressive wars of conquest,” the statement said. Those values conflict with both the university and the city’s commitment to tolerance, inclusion and democratic decision-making, the statement said. The targeting of SMSU students likewise went against community values, the statement said.

“We are committed to working together to ensure every place in Marshall is free of racism and bigotry. All members of our community — regardless of race, creed or color — must feel safe,” the statement said.

Jayasuriya and Byrnes said recent events in Marshall put the community into the international spotlight, but in a bad way. Between that and students of color feeling threatened in the community, “My fear is … students will see this and think, ‘I don’t want to go there,'” Jayasuriya said.

Jayasuriya said a key part of the university’s vision is to be inclusive to all students. It was good to have support from the city of Marshall in that vision as well.

“I’m so glad Mayor Byrnes agreed to co-sign,” Jayasuriya said of the statement.

Byrnes said SMSU and the city of Marshall have always had a strong partnership.

“We really want that to continue, and to build,” he said.

Jayasuriya said it would be important to carry forward the positive values from the university and the city.

“I would really like to have a town hall meeting,” Jayasuriya said. He said it would be a chance to “talk about values, and the good things that are happening” in the community.

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