University in Washington state cancels classes after hate speech

25 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

WWU cancels classes as social-media hate speech is investigated.

In a message on the school’s website — and sent to members of WWU’s community via email — President Bruce Shepard said a law-enforcement investigation is under way. SEATTLE (AP) — After a racist thread on social media sparked outrage on a quiet Washington state campus, college officials sent students home a day early for the Thanksgiving holiday. It is unknown if the people who posted the threats are students at the state university in Bellingham, but the posts were made from a phone located within 10 miles of campus, Shepard said. “I need to be very clear here: we are not talking the merely insulting, rude, offensive commentary that trolls and various other lowlifes seem free to spew, willy nilly, although there has been plenty of that, too.

Tuesday was to be the last day of classes before the Thanksgiving break. “There are any number of statements out there that are disturbing and very threatening,” Shepard said of the social-media posts. “We do not know what was in the mind of that person, of course, that is one reason we are investigating it. Students embrace on the Western Washington University campus in Bellingham, Wash., after classes were canceled ,Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, because of threats over the weekend against minorities posted on YikYak, an anonymous social media platform populated by college students. (Perry Blankinship via AP) The posts mentioned almost every ethnic group, including blacks, Muslims, Jews and American Indians, blaming them for an effort on campus to debate changing the university’s mascot, a Viking. So, I’m not going to jump to conclusions.” While public high schools cancel classes from time to time in light of threats, it is rare for a Washington public university to do so, according to officials at other state universities.

Shepard, who has been a university leader for the past 15 years, said he has never done so before. “I made the decision to do it here because I believe our students’ feelings of safety are very important and we must listen to what they are telling us and how they feel,” he said. Most of the online comments contained racist language and profanity, making fun of the mascot debate and the students who proposed it. “They’ll probably change it to something like the WWU Trans-Muslims.

Tuesday, more than 20 students from Campus Christian Fellowship (CCF) and other campus ministries had congregated in Red Square in response to the morning’s news of threats. “That is a really awful thing, and this is the way we want to respond,” said Shelby Duffy, 19, after singing “Amazing Grace” with other students. On its Facebook page, the WWU Black Student Union warned its members to “PLEASE STAY OFF CAMPUS” because threats have been made “directly toward certain Black folks and the larger students of color population at Western.” C.J.

In that long and nuanced post, he asked readers to consider this question: “Does a Eurocentric and male mascot point to the future we wish to embrace? And, is this, then, an image all can identify with?” The mascot issue may have been sparked by a survey that a communications professor, Michael Karlberg, was developing to see how students felt about a specific depiction of the school’s logo. Some students do not believe a white European man is a good representation of their school, but Shepard, who is retiring at the end of this academic year, said he doesn’t plan to change the mascot. “The idea of having a critical conversation about our mascot and the reaction to that is a great illustration of the problem we have not just in our university, but in society,” said Eckroth, who is a member of the student government but said he was speaking personally, not as a student leader.

Dozens of students, who said they represented Christian groups affiliated with the school, gathered on campus just before noon Tuesday to pray against fear and hate. Other than to assure you that this investigation is the highest priority of our campus law enforcement colleagues.” He said there was no threat to general campus safety, but added: “I trust you stand with me on this: a threat to any one of us is an attack on all of us.” He said the school has “mobilized to offer support and to provide protection to those specifically targeted by the hate speech. Conservative blogs, publications and commentators picked up on the story and were highly critical of Shepard’s comments, but the president — who is white — did not back down.

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