(CNN) -- The student body president of California State University, Chico, was recovering Monday from stab wounds suffered in what police believe was a hate crime, officials said.
Joseph Igbineweka, who was born in Nigeria, was stabbed early Sunday while walking in a Chico neighborhood near the college where mostly students reside, Chico police Sgt. Rob Merrifield said.
Igbineweka passed two men who began to make racial slurs, Merrifield said. He ignored them and continued to walk, but they followed him and continued to yell at him.
Igbineweka eventually turned around, and one of the men struck him, Merrifield said. He fought back, but the man pulled a pocket knife and stabbed him at least four times, in the neck, chest, stomach and arm, according to Merrifield. The attacker fled on foot.
Several police officers were in the area and were alerted to the situation, Merrifield said. An officer found Igbineweka and was able to get a description of the attacker and alert other officers in the area.
A suspect, 19-year-old Barry Sayavong, was found and arrested a few blocks away, Merrifield said. Sayavong, of Chico, is facing charges of attempted murder and a hate crime, according to Merrifield.
Igbineweka was hospitalized Monday but is expected to recover, Merrifield said. His worst injury was a deep gash on his arm.
Igbineweka was in stable condition, said Joe Wills, spokesman for the university, which is commonly known as Chico State.
"While violent crimes happen in this and other communities, this is very disturbing," Wills said. "Lots of people know Joe." The student body president is akin to a public figure in Chico, a university town of about 100,000 people, he said.
Igbineweka "is very well known in the local community," Wills said. "This is a hate crime and a very big deal."
Wills said the mood on campus "is one of shock and sadness and concern for Joe."
"And also there is looking forward to what people can do so that these kinds of crimes aren't repeated," Wills said.
"Today, our thoughts are with Joseph hoping for his full recovery," said a statement from Chico Mayor Ann Schwab and university President Paul Zingg. "We, and several others, have visited with him. ... He is in good spirits considering what he has been through."
Igbineweka "is looking forward to getting back on campus and looking for solutions to reduce violence in the community," Wills said. "He is motivated to stay active."
Igbineweka moved to the United States at the age of 15, and is from Richmond, California, Wills said.
The attack "is an assault on the values of civility and respect for other people that both Chico State and the city of Chico work so hard to ensure," Schwab and Zingg said in their statement. "We choose not to be defined by hate-filled and criminal acts."
"From his hospital bed, Joseph urges us to 'continue the conversation' around violence and prejudice," the two said. "We assure Joseph we will do that."
An open forum was set for Monday afternoon for anyone wishing to address the incident and discuss efforts for the community to move forward, they said.
CNN's Sara Pratley contributed to this report.