Central Washington University Police arrested a student and charged them with theft and malicious mischief over the burning of a campus LGBTQ pride flag last week, a university official confirmed.
The flag was stolen from the Student Union and Recreation Center and burned on the campus Wednesday, June 9, while an individual filmed the incident on social media. CWU Police said in a Facebook post the following day that the individual had been apprehended, but no further details were provided.
June is Pride month for the LGBTQ+ community.
On Tuesday, CWU Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Delores Cleary said the campus police had arrested and pressed charges against the student, whose name and graduating class Cleary declined to provide. She said it would be up to prosecutors to decide how to move forward with charges.
As of Tuesday, the student was still enrolled at the university and was set to go through a CWU student conduct review process, which Cleary did not have details to describe.
An outpouring of support for the campus community and its LGBTQ staff and students has been felt from around the state, she said, and the Yakima Pride group together with the CWU student group EQuAl — or Equality through Queers and Allies — had replaced the LGBTQ Pride flag.
Cleary said her office was also working with campus groups like EQuAl and Student Success to schedule campus town halls on how to move forward as a campus community. Students gathered in a healing event Friday, writing chalk art on campus sidewalks, she said.
The university has received praise in recent years for increasing diversity of both students and staff.
The university reported increasing enrollment of students of color from 30% in the 2015-16 academic year to 37% in 2019-20. Workplace diversity also increased from 13% to 16% across the same period.
But in the wake of the Pride flag incident, some have criticized the university's response through posters around campus, saying more could be done to create an environment of inclusivity — something Cleary said she agrees with.
"I would agree that the university has more to do in terms of several minority groups," she said. "There is always, always going to be work to do, and I think there are people across campus... and in the community, for that matter, who are committed to making Central a place that is welcoming and where people feel that they belong regardless of background."
She said systemic efforts at the university are underway, including new pushes in the last few years to bring in more diverse staff and faculty.
"Students need to see themselves represented in the classroom and in offices across campus," she said.
There are also efforts to improve employee retention and reform curriculum to be more inclusive, she said. These systemic changes are important, but slow-moving, she said. Hiring data for the last year would not be available until July.
As for cultivating inclusivity among students, Cleary said all students go through diversity training during student orientation and the Diversity and Equity Center on campus hosts training throughout the school year for interested students. The Equity Center also offers training on creating safe spaces for LGBTQ students and staff across campus departments.
While Cleary said these trainings are voluntary, there has been some effort in recent years to make them mandatory, she said. Doing so would require buy-in both from student groups and unionized staff.
"I think the buy in is increasing all the time, and it certainly has increased over the past year," she said.