By KELLY EMMRICH & ESTER SALGUERO
Last week The Blue & Gray Press published an article titled “UMW student finds aggressive Nazi message on bulletin board on Campus Walk.” In the wake of publication, there was a collective sense of panic felt by students, faculty and staff on both social media and on the campus.
Jesse Stommel, executive director of UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies, commented on the experience of seeing the front page for the first time.
“I think that my first reaction was that of anxiety for our students, and how that image would affect students,” Stommel said. “And the students not just seeing it once, but seeing it down every hallway really hit me.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Juliette Landphair and President Troy Paino released statements the day that the article was published. Landphair in an email stated that, “the UMW threat assessment team also met to discuss this posting, as well as other challenges to the University’s values of civility and inclusion.” Paino responded to the incident with a video. In the video Paino expressed that the administration was working together with the campus police and the Fredericksburg police to investigate the note.
“I want to assure you that this note is contrary to everything that UMW stands for as reflected in our statement of values,” Paino said in the video. “We respect everyone regardless of our differences, and everyone who works her works tirelessly to create a supportive and safe environment for all members of the UMW community.”
According to Chief Michael Hall, director of public safety, the Monday after the note was published on Ahad Shahid’s Twitter account, Shahid met with Dean Cedric Rucker and and Sergeant Brad Sullivan. After the meeting, Sullivan launched a formal investigation of the note. Hall also reported that the campus police are working closely with Fredericksburg police and sharing information to see if there are any patterns showing up in the general district.
The incident is best classified as a Code of Conduct violation, according to Sergeant Sullivan. The investigation is currently ongoing and campus police are waiting for more information to turn up. At the moment, campus police have been patrolling several areas where students feel most at risk, such as in front of Madison Hall and around Framar House.
According to Hall, Sullivan and the threat assessment team, this incident is a bias offence. Under state regulations it is not considered a hate crime. Virginia state codes and the FBI are careful in classifying incidents similar to these as hate crimes because they do not want to impede on anyone’s freedom of speech. However, the UMW community denounces these actions and recognizes that these incidents require sensitive response immediately after in order to ensure that students feel safe on campus.
Three incidents similar to the Nazi letter have also been reported to the police. In addition to the note there, was a small swastika drawn in a residence hall and white supremacist CDs in the Eagle’s Nest and the University Center.
Grant Raycroft, a senior English major, reported that he found a white nationalist CD on one of the tables outside the Nest on Jan. 28, 2017. According to Raycroft, his roommate, Joshua Mwandu heard that the same CDs were being distributed in the University Center.
“This hits close to home,” Raycroft said. “It feels very much like Fredericksburg is my other home, and now this presence is becoming more overt. I feel responsible as a community member to speak up about this.”
Paino, Rucker and Hall hosted a public forum on Sunday night, Feb. 19 for the UMW community to speak up about their concerns and for the administration to respond. Raycroft was one of the many students who went to the forum.
“President Paino was very apologetic,” Raycroft said. “I think it was pretty clear at the forum that this event shook the administration.”
Dean Rucker was one of the main administrators that was targeted online in the aftermath of the publication. In an interview with Rucker, he spoke about the forum and his beliefs on the note.
“[The note] was something that was offensive to me, not just as a member of this community or administrator, but as a human being,” Rucker said. “I think one of the great things about the forum was just to hear the president reinforce what we stand for. No student should be made unwelcome here. That’s not Mary Washington at all.”
SGA discussed the incident on Monday, Feb. 20 at their evening meeting. A few members from SGA also got together with other clubs promoting inclusivity and diversity such as, PRISM, Duck, the Islamic Student Association, College Republicans and Young Democrats on Monday afternoon to talk about drafting a letter in response to the recent events that will end up being placed in every classroom next to the honor code.
“Our concerns are that the university community doesn’t feel safe and we want to make sure the community knows that they’re in good hands with the resource officers on campus and the administrators [that we have],” said SGA President Alex Clegg, who is also a student representative for the Board of Visitors.
UMW’s Young Democrats also posted a statement on Facebook, linked to the article, responding to the recent events and declaring that they condemn the hate speech propagated by the note.
“Our organization strives to be a voice of progress, reason and inclusion, and we find attacks on those values deeply troubling,” said UMW Young Democrats. They noted that their weekly meetings are open to anyone who might feel unsafe and that those people may have a place to discuss their sentiments at their Wednesdaynight gatherings at 9 p.m. in Monroe room 210.
The police department recommends that all students download the Rave Guardian app. Students or community members may also send anonymous tips or reports through the Silent Witness program athttp://www.umw.edu/police/reporting-a-crime/silent-witness-form/. Bias incidents may always be reported athttp://diversity.umw.edu/bias/reporting-an-incident/.