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Facebook target will return to UMD

DULUTH — Despite stares and intense discomfort, University of Minnesota-Duluth freshman Savannah Caldwell — the target of the racist Facebook postings at UMD last month — will return to school next year.

She likes the city and UMD, although she has never quite felt at home among its students, she said. After two white UMD freshmen allegedly spewed racist comments on their Facebook walls about Caldwell last month, she can't clearly define why she's staying except to say she has a good support system in friends and advisers.

''Without them, I would have left in the fall," said Caldwell, 19.

She said neither girl involved in the conversation has apologized to her either in person or written word — but, in any case, she doesn't want to hear it.

''It's not like they stepped on my toe ... or called me ugly. It's deeper than that," she said. "The things they were saying were so racist, like from-the-1800s racist. Monkeys and trees? I thought we got past that."


On April 14, Caldwell entered a study lounge in her residence hall, a place where she rarely ventured. Usually choosing to study in her apartment, she opted for the lounge because of movie viewing in her living room. Caldwell said giggling from two girls — Chelsie Palbicki and Anna Langevin — began immediately. She thought nothing of it, even as the laughter grew. Then a friend who knew she was studying called and asked her if two white girls were there. She said yes, and that's when she learned the two were talking about her on Facebook.

Caldwell asked the pair if they had something to say to her. They said no. She asked again, and when they said no, she asked if they were talking about her on Facebook. They said no.

A friend of Caldwell's then entered the room, and when the Facebook conversation was passed on to her by someone on the phone, she confronted the students, telling them their words weren't private. At that point, Caldwell said, they tried to delete it. It had already been saved by others and spread throughout Facebook. Palbicki and Langevin left the room and Caldwell reported the incident. Shortly after in the lounge, Caldwell said, she heard monkey noises from females through an open window.

Mary Dedeke, a College of St. Scholastica student and friend of Caldwell's, sent Palbicki a message on Facebook that night telling her she was reporting the conversation. She and others also sent messages to media and UMD Chancellor Kathryn A. Martin.

''They apologized to me in a message," Dedeke said. "It was a really, really pathetic apology. They tried to bribe me so I wouldn't send their messages to other people."

Dedeke released the private messages. Palbicki allegedly wrote: "honestly, im sorry and I really do appoligize for what I said I don't know what got into us ... I have black people in my family and love them dearly ... we will do anything not to get this to anyone at umd ... we are deeply sorry."

The conversation April 14 began with "ewww a obabacare is in the room, I feel dirty, and unsafe. Keep a eye on all of your valuables and don't make direct eye contact ... I just threw up in my mouth right now."

Palbicki told the News Tribune on Thursday that she wouldn't comment on the incident. The News Tribune has not been able to reach Langevin.


Palbicki, who had nearly 800 Facebook friends following the incident, had about 300 fewer of them shortly afterward. Both students' Facebook accounts now appear to be closed. Because of privacy laws, UMD can't release information about the investigation of the students, but the UMD online directory still lists Palbicki as a student. Langevin isn't listed in the online directory but is listed in the paper directory printed at the start of the school year.

Nighttime is unsettling now for Caldwell, who said she finds sleep elusive. She's been offered counseling and restorative justice, but said she doesn't think UMD has done enough in the wake of the incident.

''The march: put on by students. The 'SPAT Out': put on by students. There is nothing that UMD has done besides move me across the parking lot (to another apartment building)," she said.

Several UMD classes discussed the incident, including Caldwell's psychology class. Caldwell said she didn't participate in the discussion and she didn't make it known that she was the victim.

University officials also held a campus forum on the topic the next week.

For some students it wasn't real until they received the campuswide e-mail from Martin acknowledging the incident, Caldwell said, noting she thinks students need more interaction with Martin or whoever is appointed as chancellor next to initiate a true climate change.

''If she was around more, talked to students more ... things would be different at this school," she said.

Caldwell wants UMD to attempt to fix the lack of students and faculty of color that she said exists, so minority students can gather in places other than the multicultural center to feel at ease.


Caldwell said she withdrew from classes last month but she will retake them this summer.

A criminology major who grew up in Minneapolis, she said she never had to deal with racism until she came to Duluth. She said the experience has changed her, but perhaps happened for a reason. She'll talk about it so she can teach what racism is.

''It's here and hasn't gone anywhere," she said. "A lot of people think it's not racism because they have no experience with it."


To see more of the Duluth News Tribune, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/.

(c) 2010, Duluth News Tribune, Minn.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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