Washington university cancels classes over hate speech

25 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A debate over a mascot, a racially charged threat and another college cancels classes.

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. 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.Students gather on the Western Washington University campus in Bellingham, Wash., after classes were canceled because of threats against minorities posted on YikYak, an anonymous social media platform populated by college students. (Perry Blankinship / Associated Press) SEATTLE — Western Washington University canceled classes Tuesday because of threats over the weekend against minorities posted on YikYak, an anonymous social media platform populated by college students. 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. 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. They’re not certain the two are connected, he said, “but we’re definitely looking into it.” Bruce Shepard, the president, wrote to the campus community, “We need time to press the criminal investigation and to plan how, as a campus, we will come together to demonstrate our outrage, to listen to each other, and to support each other. The posts did not mention a specific action against the students. http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2015/11/lewis_clark_whats_yik_yak_and.htmlThe school of about 15,000 students boasts that nearly a quarter of its enrollees are from minority groups.

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. Eastern Kentucky University closed for several days over graffiti threatening to “KILL ALL,” which came not long after a student at an Oregon community college walked into his classroom and fatally shot nine people. 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.

According to a story in the Western Front, the campus newspaper, student leaders had proposed changing the mascot after getting a letter from a communications studies professor,Michael Karlberg, that questioned whether the mascot reflected the school’s “commitment to diversity, our commitment to create a more safe and attractive and inclusive environment on campus. “… I think this mascot also reflects a sort of hyper masculine, hyper violent sort of image which is doubly problematic. 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. One student leader tweeted that there had been a popular reaction among students saying the Viking was a positive representation of their students, and urged people to contribute to the debate.

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? 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. 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.

Hard to imagine how to make a beaver look evil but graphic artists are talented.” The athletics department got a mean beaver, the university kept the cute one. Or to the past we would move beyond?” Students, alumni and others have such powerful attachments to university traditions such as mascots that they shouldn’t make the decision lightly, he wrote. 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. Rather, the pause is necessary so that we may learn more as we advance the law enforcement investigation and, together, plan responses that will make us stronger.

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