An email was sent to Western Washington University’s community Friday evening, two days after students and community activists described the school’s actions as inadequate.
Western Washington University’s (WWU) president sent a 2,685-word email to the school community Friday night explaining why he canceled classes this week following racist threats posted on social media.
In the email, also posted on the university’s site, President Bruce Shepard offered a timeline for how he dealt with the hate speech posted on the anonymous social-media phone application Yik Yak.
The letter comes two days after a packed news conference in Bellingham, where student and community activists expressed disappointment in the president’s actions after the threats surfaced. Among other things, they say he should have sent out a campuswide alert.
The crude comments and racially charged threats reportedly were to all students of color, though many messages threatened specific students. According to Shepard’s email, the students included WWU student government President Belina Seare and student Vice President for Diversity Abby Ramos.
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“Holding aside those for whom a specific threat had been made, the general campus was safe from a law-enforcement perspective,” he wrote. “However, with talk of lynching, nooses and such, there were absolutely concrete reasons for many of our students to fear coming on our campus.”
He says Ramos and Seare worked with school officials after the posts came to light to discuss safety. School officials called Seare on Tuesday to offer to relocate her and provide round-the-clock police protection, if necessary. She did not return officials’ calls, according to the email. Attempts by The Seattle Times to reach her for comment Friday night were unsuccessful.
After the cancellation announcement on Tuesday, 270 faculty and staff members received a “vile” email, according to Shepard’s email. Investigators believe the sender is from the Midwest, Shepard says.
Shepard said school officials alerted the FBI, and he cautioned readers that similar statements may follow his Friday email.
The source of the threats on Yik Yak remain anonymous. Investigators are waiting to get more information from the site to determine the poster’s identity, according to the email.
“Assuming we are able to ‘get’ those making the posts, that still does almost nothing to address the very real long-term matters of campus climate that we, and universities across the country, must continually improve,” the president wrote.