GREAT BARRINGTON — As police continue to probe a reported attack at Bard College at Simon's Rock, students are raising their voices about what they say is a racially charged atmosphere that preceded Friday's incident.
A day after the town's police chief said there was no evidence to suggest a racial motive to the alleged attack, students and others in the community on Tuesday took to email and social media to criticize the chief, the school and The Eagle.
"I want to report that the student body is not in agreement with the police," wrote Anna Loretan, a junior, in an email to The Eagle.
"The victim in question was a black student who had been very outspoken about the recent hate speech on campus," she wrote. "As we understand it, there is no conclusive evidence in either way, and the police claiming for certain that this was not a racially motivated attack feels very questionable."
Just after 2 p.m. Friday, police received a report that a woman had been attacked on a wooded trail on the grounds of the sprawling campus off Alford Road.
The victim was transported to Berkshire Medical Center with minor injuries and released, according to police.
Town police and state police detectives attached to the Berkshire District Attorney's Office are conducting what Police Chief William Walsh called a "full-blown" investigation.
On Monday, Walsh told The Eagle that police "have not discovered anything that would lead them to conclude that this was a racially motivated incident."
No new information had been released as of Tuesday afternoon, and police continue to urge anyone with information to contact them.
But students are pushing back, saying that the attack was preceded by instances of racial slurs and anti-Semitic graffiti carved on school property.
And in a statement issued late Tuesday, the college's Affinity groups of color demanded a full retraction of the Eagle's story because, it says, the headline — Police: Alleged attack not racially motivated — "indicates the incident definitely is not a hate crime" and "perpetuates narratives that survivors of incidents should not be believed."
The statement goes on to say the headline "willfully misinforms and is a gross malpractice of journalism."
Early in the day, in a handful of emails, students took aim at the chief's statement — and The Eagle's coverage of it.
One insisted the article "by a white reporter" about an incident investigated by "white police officers" did not adequately present what has been an ongoing, historical problem with racism at the school, as well as that in the larger community.
Another, by an alumna of the school, said that the press should dig deeper into racial and other inequality at the school and in the county, and be cautious of supporting "systems of oppression that allow continued violence against the most vulnerable members of our communities," wrote Zoe Nadig. "Pretending these issues do not exist in the bubble of Berkshire county is not only ignorant but dangerous."
Neither students nor staff responded to requests for interviews to learn more about the climate on campus.
Chief Walsh could not be reached Tuesday about whether there have been other reports of racially charged incidents on campus.
In an email to The Eagle on Monday, Vice Provost Susan Lyon said classes were canceled this week to give the entire school community a chance to grapple with the alleged attack, and she said there were instances of racial slurs written on a chalkboard in the student union, as well as anti-Semitic speech carved into a bathroom stall in another building.
On Tuesday, she told The Eagle that the school is in full support mode to help students, and that officials do not want to "speculate about the circumstances, motives or other elements of the allegations."
Lyon also said that campus security has been bolstered in the wake of the alleged attack.
In the emails, the students said that for weeks leading up to the incident, there have been "multiple incidents of hate speech," and one that had been reported to school authorities by the victim.
Several parents and students wrote with concerns of how the school had handled these earlier incidents.
"Parents were not made aware of the incidents of hate speech, and the limited information about this violent incident was not sent out to the parents, students or staff until about six hours after the incident," wrote student Janery Mejia.
School officials sent an email to the school community on Saturday to reassure them, among other things, that the college is "committed to maintaining inclusive learning environments in which hostile actions and violence will not be tolerated."
Lyon said that the college, as it works with local and state police, will be sharing more information with the school community soon, and takes safety and inclusiveness seriously.
Heather Bellow can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.