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.

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.

Classes were canceled Tuesday at Western Washington University after an alleged incident of hate speech on social media that threatened students of color, according to a message the school’s president sent to the campus community. The social media threats follow others targeting black students at schools including Lewis & Clark in Portland, Ore., Howard University in Washington, D.C., and University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. “Yesterday, we observed social media being used for hate speech targeted at Western students of color,” President Bruce Sheppard said in a statement. “I need to be VERY clear here: we are not talking the merely insulting, rude, offensive commentary that trolls and various other lowlife’s seem free to spew, willy nilly, although there has been plenty of that, too. No, this was hate speech.” While it is unknown who the perpetrators are and whether or not they are Western students, Sheppard said whoever is responsible “will face the criminal justice system.” School officials wouldn’t go into details about where the comments were posted or what was said. 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.

At some point in the past 48 hours, there were posts on the anonymous social media app Yik Yak that included hate speech and threats directed at people of color, said university spokesperson Paul Cocke. 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’s very unusual for a public university to do so. 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.

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? 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. 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.

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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