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Students react to hate speech shutdown

Following the cancellation of Western classes on Tuesday, Nov. 24, some students and university employees continued to come to campus.

Despite the observation of hate speech on the anonymous social media platform YikYak, and the email warning from President Bruce Shepard about coming to campus, students still arrived to work and study.

Senior Max Johnson studies in Wilson Library on Tuesday, Nov. 24 after classes were cancelled. // Photo by Brenna Visser.
Senior Max Johnson studies in Wilson Library on Tuesday, Nov. 24 after classes were cancelled. // Photo by Brenna Visser.

Max Johnson, a senior in the sociology department, said he heard about the closure mostly from Facebook notifications before receiving the email. But Johnson, who identifies as a mixed black student, ultimately decided to come to school anyway.

“If I stay home, it could be silencing to have to be huddled in my house. In one way, it’s better to be safe than sorry,” Johnson said. “On the other hand, I didn’t want to interrupt my daily routine for something people face on a daily basis.”

Johnson arrived to study in the library but felt the decision to cancel classes for the day was the right one.

Senior Ashley Tippins, who is a multiracial student, first heard about the situation through an email from Western’s debate team, which stated that the group would be moving its meeting off campus for the sake of the members who are students of color.

“It was very surreal,” Tippins said. “I knew that this scenario was possible, but it was surprising to happen in a place where racial tension is underground and subverted.”

She said the decision not to go to campus was extremely difficult, but was finally made because Tippins knew she could be a target.

“I know there will be difference of opinion, but I would caution people to not shrug it off. People need to wake up a little bit and look at the structural, cultural problems instead of just the symptoms,” Tippins said.

Some students who work on campus felt comfortable arriving for their normal shifts.

Junior Rebecca Sumner, who is a white student, works in the Associated Students Bookstore and didn’t feel targeted by the threats on social media, and felt there would still be students on campus who would need supplies.

But she also felt the cancellation was the right thing to do.

“I think [President Shepard] made the right decision in closing down,” Sumner said. “It shows he cares about us.”

Freshman Curtis Blair, who is a white student, works at Wilson Library’s info desk and also chose to come to work although the news of the hate speech was disappointing to him.

Blair received an email from his employer saying he could come in to work or not depending on whether he felt comfortable, Blair said.

In addition to students coming to campus to work, members of the Campus Christian Fellowship also arrived in Red Square to sing in opposition of the hateful messages on social media. Participants hoped to spread a message of love in light of the controversy.

Photos of the event can be viewed here.

Additional information about the investigation will be reported as it is made available.


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