The famous international harmony of Phillips Exeter Summer School was jarringly disrupted this week — from outside campus — when students found themselves the target of racial epithets and obscene gestures by at least two different passing motorists in three incidents.
Students on Sunday managed to jot down a license plate, leading to the apprehension later by the Exeter Police Department of two juvenile suspects who face the equivalent of misdemeanor charges, said the Director of Campus Safety, Paul Gravel. He told The Summer Times that three similar incidents occurred last year.
One of the latest incidents — a driver yelling the N-word at students on the library lawn — was witnessed Tuesday by Dylan Loll who immediately called Campus Safety. “It makes me really angry,” he said. “The act that those people have to go out of their way to be racist or rude is just unbelievable.”
Two days earlier, on the library lawn, a Frisbee was being tossed around from person to person. Students were all enjoying the Sunday evening, exchanging giggles and laughs. But that happiness stopped when a car with two unidentified individuals shouted, “go back to China.” This was not the first time something like this had happened.
Luke Sabbio, from New Hampshire, an eyewitness of that incident, described the drivers as “ignorant” and “rude”, and Hannah Stanton, from North Carolina said, “People should have more respect for other ethnicities.”
According to Mr. Gravel, the first incident occurred on Sunday, July 17, at 11:06 a.m. at the corner of Front Street and Tan Lane. Someone in a passing black pickup truck directed “racial remarks and obscene gestures” at students. Just over an hour later, at 12:15 p.m., someone in the same truck hurled similar insults at students walking on Portsmouth Avenue near Walgreens.
Uniqua L. Jones was a target of some of the abuse: “It was on Sunday at around 10:50 a.m. and my friend Lemon and I were walking back to campus from Walgreens. A black truck slowed down next to us and a white man with a white cap on said ‘Ni****rs’ then sticks the middle finger up at us and speeds away. I was really upset about the fact that he said that but I was also shocked that a grown man would go out of his way to harrass minors. I never experienced anything like this but I don’t believe this will be the last time for me as a person of color.”
Then on Tuesday, July 19, at 8:14 p.m., someone in a gray SUV yelled racial epithets at students playing Frisbee on the lawn of the Library.
None of the students suffered physical injury, Dean Jeff Ward reported. “I have spoken with the students affected, their advisers, as well as their parents. They are all well and their advisers will be checking on them.” He said he was in touch with Mr. Gravel about these events and Mr. Gravel “is our liaison with the Exeter Police.” Mr. Ward said Campus Safety officers are stepping up patrols around campus especially in locations where students naturally congregate.
Interviewed Wednesday by Summer Times reporters — the session had been arranged before the incidents — Mr. Gravel said that there had been three recent incidents. Campus Safety “have identified two of the drivers” but “the drivers are saying it was the passengers that had something to say, and the passengers are saying it was the drivers that has something to say.”
“What you have to understand is that we are situated right in the center of Exeter, we have three major routes that come through Exeter so we don’t always assume that they are residents of Exeter,” Mr. Gravel said.
In the first incident, which occurred in front of the Main street dormitories, the students managed to get the car’s license plate, Mr. Gravel said. “They did a good job at identifying the vehicle, and staying right where the incident took place so they can be interviewed.”
The second incident happened on the road in front of the academy building. In the first two occasions, it involved the same vehicle.
Exeter’s community has been wounded by of these unfortunate events, which have brought echoes of the troubled world outside. In an all-school email, Director Elena Gosalvez-Blanco wrote that you “[should reach out to] any Dean or any adult on campus if you have any question or concerns” or call Campus Safety to report the incident.
Mr. Gravel said: “We do encourage everybody to report them because we do follow up with the police department.”