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AMHERST, Mass.--Ever since the Red Sox lost the World Series, Black and Hispanic students say life in this small college town 100 miles from Boston's Fenway Park has become a nightmare.
A fight between white Red Sox fans and Black boosters of the New York Mets injured a bystander after the final game of the series and unearthed racial tensions at the University of Massachusetts which have since spread to nearby colleges.
A racial slur was painted on the steps of Smith College a week after the World Series. Rumors floated that a white student in a Ku Klux Klan outfit at a Halloween party won a prize for the costume. Black women complained of stepped up harassment.
"There's a sense of vulnerability and terror, of a state of siege on the part of minorities," said John Grayson, an assistant professor of religion at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley.
Mount Holyoke senior Michele Mitchell said a University of Massachusetts student hurled a racial insult at her and shoved her away from a copier at a university library the week after the ball game.
"Racism is something I've felt ever since I came up here, but it's always been latent," said the Albuquerque native. "Now white UMass men are warning Black Mount Holyoke women to stay away from the campus."
Mitchell and white classmate Erin Fields organized a racism teach-in at Mount Holyoke that drew 600 students last week. The teach-in came a few days after similar discussions at Smith College in Northampton that attracted 2000 students.
The Smith talks were prompted by a spray-painted slur on the steps of Lilly Hall on October 30. The building houses offices for minority student groups and the slur was apparently written in response to letters in the student newspaper describing campus bigotry.
Smith President Mary Maples Dunn said she would bring in experts to help the college deal with racism and would hold workshops during freshman orientation next fall.
"It's an old issue," Dunn said, describing herself as a student of the '60s, when the nation became acutely sensitive to racism. "I think what took me by surprise is that we had become insensitive to it."
The issue was sparked by the October 27 fight that put 10 people in the University of Massachusetts infirmary with cuts and bruises and left student Yancey Robinson in a neck brace.
"Yancey was an unlikely victim who just came on the scene and got grabbed," said Ricardo Townes, an assistant director of a university minority program who is helping investigate the fight. "While he was being beaten, someone said, 'Oh, he's not the guy.'"
About 500 students met at the university three nights after the beating, some to allege that police stood by and watched as Robinson was beaten, others to complain that the university was slow to investigate.
The next day, 40 students marched before, the administration building to demand an investigation.
Chancellor Joseph Duffy attended the meeting and acknowledged that racism was a factor in the fights, but said he could do nothing unless students filed formal complaints. He also said that only a dozen police officers were available to handle several battles that night in a crowd estimated at 12,000.
Although witnesses have given statements, Robinson has not filed charges. There has been no answer at his telephone since Thursday.
Townes said the fight was no indication of race relations in the Connecticut River Valley, where the schools lie. "This is my 10th year here, and I wouldn't stay if things were as bad as I've heard some people make them out to be."
But Townes said he was dismayed by what he called racist attitudes among campus police and students from small, homogeneous towns.
Grayson said the attitudes were reflected in the baseball teams that fought the World Series. "The Red Sox were historically slower in making a number of steps toward [racial] progress, much slower than the Mets," he said.
"Boston's image as a city fostering racial diversity is tarnished. I'm a Bostonian, and I'm not surprised that the World Series became the catalyst that brought to the surface a lot of underlying tensions."
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