Western student Shayne Merwin, who was arrested in connection with racist and homophobic vandalism, has chosen not to return to campus for the remainder of the quarter.
This announcement was met with cheers from more than 200 students who met in Red Square on Monday, Dec. 3 to march in solidarity into the president’s office, upset about the way Western administration handled the incident.
Merwin was released from Whatcom County Jail on Nov. 26, and charged with second-degree burglary, a class B felony, on Nov. 27, according to Deputy Prosecutor Erik Sigmar.
According to The Bellingham Herald, Merwin was also later charged with malicious harassment, Washington State’s felony statute for committing a hate crime.
Merwin is scheduled to appear in court for an arraignment on Friday, Dec. 7.
According to a Western Advisory sent out on Nov. 26, Merwin was trespassed from all university dining and residence halls. Following his release from jail, the protesting students said they fear this is not enough to keep the Western community safe. They accused the university of withholding vital information, such as his name and what he looks like, while allowing him to go to class as usual.
Their main concern was safety.
Second-year student Julian Pritchard lived with Merwin for the 2017-18 school year in Ridgeway Omega. He said he noticed Merwin’s intolerance of students with different identities than his the day he met him.
Pritchard said as soon as he saw Merwin’s Twitter page, which shared hateful messages daily, he requested to switch roommates.
“I asked to move, to not live with him, and I was ignored,” Pritchard said.
Pritchard felt it was difficult to be heard because he wasn’t being personally victimized, he said. Regardless of that, he said he didn’t want to be around someone with hateful opinions.
Second-year Anna Schrieve, who lived a floor below Merwin, said she reported him three times to her resident assistant and director for vandalism she found in the Omega lounge. She too received little response, and both Pritchard and Schrieve said they weren’t surprised by Merwin’s crimes.
“We all fucking knew this was coming, but I was really pissed because it could have not happened,” Schrieve said. “It could have been stopped.”
Schrieve is a human services major, part of the group who put on the walkout and sit-in.
“[Merwin] definitely has affected the safety of my friends on campus,” Schrieve said. “I know several people of color who don’t want to come to school and they haven’t come to school—our dead week was last week and they just didn’t come because they are scared.”
Pritchard said Merwin was politically conservative and repeatedly expressed his distaste for the popularity of liberal beliefs at Western. Schrieve said Merwin enjoyed sharing his conservative views, citing a Confederate flag collection and frequent polarizing messages written on his dorm door whiteboard.
“He wouldn’t [transfer schools] because he wouldn’t have unique views,” Schrieve said. “He wants to make a point on this campus, and I think the administration has been entirely too tolerant of that.”
Schrieve attended the sit-in because she feels Western hasn’t done enough to respond to the incident, she said.
“The administration has prioritized one hateful person’s education over [minorities] feeling safe on campus,” she said. “That puts them at risk for not being able to come to class, not being able to speak up, not being able to do the things they want to do and feel like they’re a part of this community.”
Not long into the sit-in, University Police Chief Darin Rasmussen and Assistant Dean of Students Michael Sledge joined the conversation. They reassured students they’re following the disciplinary procedures from the student code of conduct to the best of their abilities.
Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services Melynda Huskey said two processes have been initiated. The first is deciding whether Merwin will be permanently evicted from student housing, and the second is whether expulsion will come into effect.
Various students expressed they felt unsafe in the meantime, while Merwin is still able to attend classes. Students suggested a variety of solutions, including temporary suspension or a police escort while he remains on trial.