Western Washington University cancels classes after 'hate speech' threat

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Story highlights

  • Western Washington University president: "Hate speech" targeted at students of color
  • Authorities are "going after" what the school president calls "trolls and lowlifes"

(CNN)Western Washington University called off classes Tuesday over social media posts that the school's president characterized as "hate speech (targeting) students of color."

The school didn't close entirely, but there were no classes at Western Washington's main campus in Bellingham. President Bruce Shepard said law enforcement told him "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."
    Shepard didn't offer details on these threats, noting a criminal investigation is ongoing and pointing out that "we do not know if the perpetrators are Western students."
    He added, "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."
    The Western Washington threat comes at a time when many colleges and universities around the United States grapple with racial tensions. Perhaps the most high-profile recent example came at the University of Missouri, where the university system president and chancellor were ousted following a weeks-long protest movement.
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    The turmoil is happening in the context of a larger debate involving Black Lives Matter activists and those who have challenged them in support of police and other authorities. The movement was spurred by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York, though African-American students' gripes aren't confined to issues with law enforcement.
    It was not immediately clear if anything specific to Western Washington University spurred the threat there. In a Facebook posting last week, the school's Black Student Union referred to a crucial meeting for "a pivotal movement regarding the survival of Students of Color and their retention and well-being on this campus."
    The school is in Bellingham, about 90 miles north of Seattle with about 80,000 people, the majority of whom are white.
    At Western Washington University, "students of color" make up roughly one-quarter of the school's 15,000 students.
    "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," Shepard said. "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."