Western Washington University canceled classes Tuesday after hate speech remarks popped up on social media and targeted students of color, school officials said.
University President Bruce Shepard told KUOW’s Bill Radke that the messages run "from simply the rude and ugly that you see trolls out there throwing around all the time to non-specific threats to specific threats.”
He would not go into detail about what the remarks said. But the cancelation comes a day after Shepard posted on his university blog about the campus debate over whether the school should drop its school mascot, a Viking.
“I made clear there's not going to be a change,” Shepard said. “But on the extent there's a connection, it's folks who are afraid merely of the fact we might discuss subjects like what appropriately represents our university. That's sad in a university environment where we should have no hesitation about discussing anything, doing so in ways that are passionate, but civil.”
But he acknowledged concerns over the mascot.
“The one that rings most true with me is a concern that a Eurocentric male represents the past rather than the future we want to embrace,” he said.
After the hate speech, Shepard said, students of color have told him that they're concerned about their safety.
“In the 15 years I've been doing this kind of job, I have never canceled a whole day of classes for any reason whatsoever, including bad weather – and I spent seven years in Green Bay, Wisconsin,” he said. “We take the feelings of campus safety very, very seriously and need to be responsive to concerns when our students of color do not feel safe coming to class.”
He stressed that police believe there’s no threat to general campus safety. Even though classes are canceled, the university was open and operating Tuesday.
Race-related protests have roiled other campuses across the nation in recent weeks. The University of Missouri president stepped down after protests there.
Shepard said he was focused on “preparing Western for a future that is increasingly diverse, and we have not backed down from that and will not back down from that. That's who we are.”