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Students reach out to community in response to hate speech

Junga Subedar, Belina Seare, Rosalinda Guillen (from right to left) discuss Western's response to hate speech during a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 25.
Junga Subedar, Belina Seare, Rosalinda Guillen (from right to left) discuss Western’s response to hate speech during a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 25.

**Editors note: A comment from University Communications Director Paul Cocke has been added since the original version of this article.

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Following a continued series of hate speech messages and threats against people of color via social media, some Western students have gone to the community asking for help in securing their safety.

In a press conference Wednesday, Nov. 25, Associated Students President Belina Seare said that because of continued threats against her, she has become extremely concerned for her safety and for the safety of other students of color.

“Some of these comments were racially-charged death threats and threats of sexual violence against me,” Seare said.  
These threats have been sourced from online channels such as YikYak and the anonymous online message board 4chan, according to the press conference.

Latino Advocacy representative Maru Mora Villalpando said a group of students reached out to the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center after feeling the response from Western administration and campus police had not been sufficient.

“President Shepard’s widely quoted statement has established a false impression that the issue is being resolved and that students feel safe,” according to a press release.

Seare said she has reached out to campus police in order to make a safety plan, but was told there wasn’t much that could be done.

“Up until this point, I have been refused appropriate security and due to the negligent response of the campus police, I know my safety is not a priority,” Seare said. “My growing fear, is that these systemic issues will continue to go unaddressed at the expense of people of color and black people.”

University Communications Director Paul Cocke said he felt the amount of police protection offered to these individuals was appropriate.

“Individual students who were the direct targets of hate speech and threats have been offered enhanced police protection,” Cocke said in an email.”The university cares deeply about the safety of students.”

She compared these threats to situations of racial tension at Lewis and Clark College, the University of Missouri, Princeton University, Howard University, University of Massachusetts Amherst and the communities of Minneapolis, Chicago and other locations.

Whatcom Civil Rights Project and Racial Justice Coalition secretary Junga Subedar said students have requested safety measures be taken by campus police. However, they were told a formal statement and additional information were needed before a warrant could be issued against YikYak.

According to the anonymous forum’s legal page, “YikYak will only release non-public information about its users to law enforcement officials in response to appropriate legal process, such as a subpoena, court order, or search warrant – or in response to a valid emergency request.”

Other than the cancellation, no action has been taken by the university, despite students’ attempts to talk to administration, according to Subedar.

Community to Community Development Executive Director Rosalinda Guillen said students were afraid and exhausted in the wake of the threats and lack of university response, but continued to maintain their concern.

“What I really admired about [the students] was that they were also very concerned about the other students of color at Western Washington University,” Guillen said.

Guillen said her own son had attended Western briefly before leaving in the wake of discontent with lack of support and barriers for students of color.

“I can’t help but imagine that if these students had been white, that there would be another whole different reaction to these kinds of threats,” Guillen said.

The next step will be to discuss with students what the community needs to do to support them and how to discuss those needs with the university, Guillen said.

Western’s Counseling Center is available to students 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; during daytime hours it can be reached at 650-3164, and after hours at 650-3555, according to a University press release. Western’s Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, is a valuable resource for faculty and staff, and can be contacted at (877) 313-4455 or after hours at (866) 704-6364.

**Editors note: Brenna Visser, the daily editor, also contributed to this story.

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