Indiana State University student Sasha Edwards took a piece of paper with the word “noose” written on it and tossed it into a fire.

Others who had written down hate words also fed the flames during a symbolic burning ceremony Friday at ISU’s Dede Plaza.

The fire was lit in a barrel, and many of the 26 people assembled did their part to burn the negative words and slurs that inflame and insult society.

The words showed hatred and intolerance toward people based on race, ethnicity disability, sexual orientation and gender.

The offensive words included, but weren’t limited to, “half-breed,” “retard,” “ho,” and “redneck.”

Edwards participated in the hate-burning ceremony to make a statement “that hate still exists on a national as well as local level, and it shouldn’t be tolerated … My goal was to start the process of eliminating hate.”

At the end of Friday’s burning ceremony, those who attended gathered in a circle and sang, “We shall overcome.”

ISU’s NAACP chapter organized the event, which also drew support from the Greater Terre Haute Branch of NAACP and the Terre Haute NAACP Youth Council.

“People don’t understand the offense these words have toward all races,” said Ebony Roberts, president of the ISU NAACP chapter. Edwards is vice president.

The event Friday was prompted in part by the discovery of a noose on campus Oct. 25. The noose was found in a tree, sparking outrage and a town hall meeting attended by about 400 people.

Instead of reacting with violence, ISU students talked about constructive ways to respond to the racist act, including a petition to get hate crime legislation in Indiana.

Friday’s hate-burning event was a symbolic first step toward eradicating intolerance and racism “so we can try to start on a new route” at ISU, Roberts said.

Some who attended carried posters that showed a tombstone and a grave. On the tombstone was written: “The N word.” On top of the grave were the words: “Gone forever.” A shovel in the poster had “NAACP” written on it.

Among those who carried one of the posters was Theressa Bynum, president of the Greater Terre Haute Branch of NAACP.

“We don’t have tolerance for hate of any form,” she said.

Another goal of Friday’s hate-burning ceremony was “to encourage people to be aware of the words they use and to try to dispel the use of negativity,” Bynum said. Instead, people need to be more

sensitive, thoughtful and kind

toward others.

“There is so much hate. We can’t keep going on like this,” Bynum said.

ISU’s NAACP chapter will work with the Terre Haute NAACP branch in circulating a petition backing hate crimes legislation, Roberts said. She also plans to coordinate with NAACP college chapters statewide to circulate petitions and garner support for legislation.

Next year, 2008, is the year that hate crimes legislation must pass, said Muriel Ryan, chairwoman of the Political Action Committee for the Terre Haute NAACP Branch.

Ryan urged those attending to stay in contact with their legislators and keep the fire burning for hate crimes legislation.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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