Four words evoking exclusion turned into an impromptu celebration of diversity Tuesday at Wesleyan College.
About 100 students, faculty and staff members of the women’s college staged a noon sit-in after what is being called “hate crimes” in a residence hall.
Many of them dressed in black for unity.
Kyla Williamson, a student from Greenville, S.C., said hurtful messages were left in her building.
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“It’s been very hard for students to deal with this,” Williamson said, as professor Karen Huber held her arm around her. “We’re getting through. We’re coming together and we’re trying to fight and just bring back peace on campus.”
Huber said faculty members have been working with the administration since Monday night to calm students’ concerns.
“This isn’t Wesleyan. This kind of behavior isn’t Wesleyan. We are about pulling together and supporting each other. We’re about sisterhood,” Huber said.
When student Riya Adhikari found an anti-immigrant message on her dorm room door, she shared it with the world.
On a white board written in purple marker, the words read: “Go Away Immigrant #Trump”
Adhikari, whose profile says she is from Nepal, posted that she felt “powerful” Monday night that someone was so threatened by her existence that he or she wrote on her board.
“To the scared, ignorant person who wrote it, if you think you broke me, you’re wrong,” Adhikari posted. “Those words of hate you scribbled on my wall has shown me how much love and support I have.”
Other messages, including one with racial slurs, were left on other doors, said Andrea Williford, vice president of advancement at Wesleyan.
“At this point, we don’t know how many students are involved,” Williford said. “We think it’s pretty isolated to one hall.”
Classes at the women’s college were canceled Tuesday so that faculty, staff and students could share feelings and vent any concerns they have.
The college had already scheduled a chapel service after President Trump’s travel ban from seven predominantly Muslim countries with terrorism ties.
The message was altered slightly to address Monday night’s incident.
“We want to hear from their perspective if this is something that has to be dealt with institutionally, or is this between two girls that got mad at each other?” Williford said.
An hour after Adhikari’s post, Wesleyan College President Ruth Knox shared a message in the school’s public alumnae group on Facebook.
The retiring president began the statement by saying Wesleyan welcomes international students.
“Our diversity is among our greatest strengths,” Knox quoted the college’s mission statement.
Knox pledged to deal appropriately with anyone who violated the college’s code of conduct.
“We abhor uncivil behavior that threatens the sanctity of our community, either from within or outside our campus,” Knox’s statement read.
Wesleyan Provost Vivia Fowler said it is possible the perpetrator was a visitor and not a member of the college community.
“We have 125 international students, and we want them to know they’re loved and cared for,” Fowler said at the sit-in.
She called the messages “very targeted, very personal” attacks that had a ripple effect.
“That one very personal event has caused many students to recall other incidents,” Fowler said.
At the conclusion of the chapel service, everyone joined hands in a giant circle.
“I’m thrilled to see everyone out here,” Huber said as she looked out at dozens of students and teachers sitting on the grass and listening to tunes such as “We are Family,” and “Happy.”
Students and college organizations also posted statements on social media.
“All acts of hate and aggression on this campus will not be tolerated by the student body and Wesleyan as a whole. We are sisters on this campus, and actions of hate against one affect us all,” the Student Government Association post stated.
The Black Student Alliance posted that the group “stands in solidarity with all students on Wesleyan’s campus from all different walks of life, regardless of race, gender, cultures, and nationalities. We do not tolerate hate or rude behavior, in any shape, form, or fashion. We are a student body and when one person is affected we all are affected. Yesterday’s offenses are hate crimes and are not accepted period.”
Freshman Anna Fenton painted a poster that read: “United we stand, divided we fall.”
“It was very heart-rending that someone would be so hateful on our campus when we have always encouraged people to be very open,” Fenton said. “We have so many different personalities and ethnicities here on campus that it should not happen,” Fenton said. “It’s discouraging.”
Freshmen D’Maya Kirkland and November Aikens were shocked and disgusted by the messages, but they are noticing a greater sense of unity.
“We’re rallied out here as one ... instead of letting it tear us apart,” Aikens said.
“If anything, I think it’s brought us more together,” Kirkland said.
They have this message for the author of the messages:
“Please just try to be more accepting of other people’s opinions and don’t hurt people like that,” Aikens said.
“That’s not OK,” Kirkland said. “There are better things to do with your time and energy.”
Liz Fabian: 478-744-4303, @liz_lines