Western Washington University cancels classes Tuesday after hate speech targets students

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From Western Washington University

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Western Washington University announced it was suspending all classes on Tuesday because of threats against minority students on social media.

President Bruce Shepard said the comments were not just rude, he considered them to be hate speech. He said safety of students is his top priority and that is why administrators have chosen to cancel classes Tuesday.

Shepard said he could not release specific details of the ongoing law enforcement investigation. It is unclear who posted the threatening comments on social media.

He said there was no specific threat to general campus safety, but “a threat to any one of us is an attack on all of us.”

While classes were canceled, the university was said to be “open and operating.”

The university’s Thanksgiving break was scheduled to begin on Wednesday.

Here is the full message from the president posted shortly after 6 a.m. on the school’s website:

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 lowlife’s 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,

Bruce

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