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Signs of Hatred Mar Preschool, UCI Dormitory

November 14, 1991|KRISTINA LINDGREN and LESLIE BERKMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Robert Lay, president of the South Orange County Chamber of Commerce, called the incident a senseless act and said Lake Forest business leaders felt a need to deal with prejudice in South County.

The vandalism at the preschool "made me terribly angry," Lay said.

Added Lake Forest Councilwoman-elect Helen Wilson: "We are going to be a city in a relatively short period of time and we are not going to stand for this."

The defacing occurred at night, Lamourelle said, adding that she does not believe that the 82 children who attend her day center in the 24600 block of Raymond Way are in danger. She wrote a letter to the parents of each student explaining the incident.

Lamourelle also owns another nursery school in Dove Canyon, a new Saddleback Valley community. It, too, has a multi-ethnic staff and clientele.

Seeing the racist symbols on the nursery school revived memories from Lamourelle's youth in West Virginia, including her first movie experience, when she sat in a segregated balcony to watch "The Ten Commandments."

Lamourelle also recalled her hospitalization for a kidney infection as a child. She believed she was dying, Lamourelle said, because she wasn't allowed in the pediatrics ward with the white children but instead was in a separate black wing with old people near death.

The business and civic leaders who called the news conference over the nursery school incident join a growing number who have denounced racial intolerance in South County.

Last summer, the Mission Viejo City Council reacted to racial incidents in South County around the July 4 weekend by forming an anti-hate crime task force. The panel, composed of council members and local activists with experience in racial issues, held a series of high-profile meetings ending in September. The group made several recommendations to the council, including adding racial awareness programs in city schools.

UCI, which has the most minority students of the nine UC campuses, has long had ethnic awareness programs, emphasizing understanding different cultures. But the graffiti targeting the Latina student has shocked many into realizing that even such a university campus is not immune to intolerance and racism.

"We're trying to give the victims and the public the message that we are all offended by this and we will not tolerate it," said Rob Ameele, UCI's associate director of undergraduate housing.

Since the Nov. 7 incident, students in Sierra Hall have kept exterior doors at the coeducational dormitory locked. The lock to the suite of rooms shared by the woman student has been changed, even though it was not locked the day the intruder entered, Ameele said.

He said the woman, whose name was withheld by campus officials, has decided not to switch rooms at this time.

"She's nervous, but there's a pretty supportive environment in that hall," Ameele said.

The defacing of the day-care center and the racial epithets are only the latest in a round of highly publicized racial incidents in the past year.

The most violent came on June 30, when a white auto parts manager allegedly beat a 12-year-old black youth. Police say the man was incensed over seeing the boy walking along a Mission Viejo street with a group of white friends, some of them girls.

Though disturbed by the act of intolerance against her racially mixed nursery school, Lamourelle said she was gratified by the chamber's support and wouldn't live anywhere else: "I never thought the organization or community would respond as they did."

Although tots at the preschool saw the KKK and the swastika, Lamourelle said, they didn't understand the symbols' message of hate.

But at least one little boy was appalled by the vandalism. "Their parents didn't teach them right," the youngster said.

Times correspondent Frank Messina contributed to this report.

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