WWU Cancels Classes Tuesday After Racial Threats on Social Media

Katherine Long and Coral Garnick, Seattle Times, November 25, 2015

In an unprecedented step, Western Washington University suspended all classes Tuesday because of what President Bruce Shepard called “disturbing and very threatening” hate speech, posted on social media and targeting students of color.

Law enforcement is investigating the incident as a possible hate crime. It is believed to be the first time classes at a higher-education institution in Washington have been suspended because of a threat on social media.

Shepard, who made the decision, said he was alerted by employees at the Bellingham school who saw the threat first on the anonymous social-media phone application Yik Yak. His message on the school’s website detailed threats he said he viewed as crimes, and pledged to go after whoever made them.

He said that the target was students of color, and that he decided to suspend classes because he was concerned about the safety of all students. {snip}

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Shepard confirmed that some of the hate speech appears to be connected to a suggestion made by some students that the school’s mascot, a Viking, be changed, saying it isn’t racially inclusive.

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Cocke said a few students of color received direct threats, but officials did not release details. On social media, one running thread made references to lynching and the Ku Klux Klan, and used photos of some student-government leaders that appeared to have been lifted off WWU’s website.

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It’s not the first time Western has been at the center of a controversy over race. In April 2014, during a convocation speech, Shepard said that Western was too white.

Conservative blogs, publications and commentators picked up on the story and were highly critical of Shepard’s comments, and some hate graffiti appeared on campus.

Shepard–who is white–did not back down. And hundreds of people marched on campus in support of the president.

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The school’s enrollment this fall is 73.2 percent white; blacks make up 3.4 percent of enrollment, Hispanic/Latino 7.1 percent, Asian American 11.3 percent and Native American 3 percent. That’s a small change from 2014, when 74.5 percent of students were white.

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