Western Washington University cancelled classes today after racial threats were found online. An investigation is currently underway.
President Bruce Shepard announced the cancellation yesterday, after finding what he called “disturbing and very threatening” hate speech, posted on social media and targeting students of color.
Law enforcement is investigating the incident as a hate crime.
Shepard made the announcement on the school’s website yesterday morning:
A message from President Bruce Shepard:
Yesterday, we observed social media being used for hate speech targeted at Western students of color. 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. No, this was hate speech.
These are likely crimes in my view (and in the view of those in the criminal justice system we immediately involved). I cannot go into the details of an ongoing law enforcement investigation. Other than to assure you that this investigation is the highest priority of our campus law enforcement colleagues.
We do not know if the perpetrators are Western students. If not, they face the criminal justice system. If so, they also face the criminal justice system. And, when it comes to being associated with Western, I promise you it will not be for long.
Law enforcement has advised me of their assessment that, as the situation is currently understood, there is no threat to general campus safety. However, and I trust you stand with me on this: a threat to any one of us is an attack on all of us.
We have welcomed the guidance of our students of color as to how else we might be supportive. We have mobilized to offer support and to provide protection to those specifically targeted by the hate speech. With disturbing social media content continuing through early this morning, students of color have advised me of their very genuine, entirely understandable, and heightened fear of being on campus.
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. So, I have decided to cancel classes today in order to provide that time.
Have no doubt: this is not a capitulation to those I described as trolls and lowlifes. We are going after them. 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. In a phrase I often hear you use, it is because “Western Cares.”
While classes are cancelled, the university will continue to be open and operating.
Thank you for being there for all who are Western,
Naturally this was another Yik Yak Threat, despite the previously unsuccessful string of similar threats across the country. When are people going to learn that nothing on the Internet is actually anonymous?
WWU spokesman Paul Cocke also revealed that several students of color received direct threats but details were not released. The WWU Black Student Union told members of the Facebook page to stay off campus.