Wake Forest University officials’ decision to continue classes last week didn’t diminish the emotions and concerns felt by students, faculty and staff members after several university departments received racist and homophobic emails — messages that called for the purge of minorities and members of LGBTQ community.
“We pledge to stand by all our students, staff and faculty when they experience hate and discrimination of any kind,” Wake Forest officials said in a statement to students, faculty and staff at WFU. “We must remember who we are as a caring and supportive community and move forward in the spirit of those values.”
Wake Forest officials consulted with law enforcement and national threat assessment experts — including the FBI’s leading experts on domestic terrorism, white nationalism, and hate crimes — before deciding to continue classes and normal university operations, the university said.
The increased police presence on campus and enhanced security measures will continue during the investigation, WFU said.
The university’s 453-word statement was signed by WFU President Nathan Hatch, Provost Rogan Kersh, Jane Aiken, dean of WFU’s School of Law, Michele Gillespie, the university’s dean of the college, Charles Iacovou, Wake Forest’s dean of the School of Business, Penny Rue, the school’s vice president for campus life, Jose Villalba, its vice president for diversity and inclusion and Jonathan Walton, the dean of the WFU School of Divinity.
Twelve university faculty and staff members received the emails last week from an unknown source, university police said in a message Tuesday that was distributed to students, faculty and staff members.
“The emails were intentionally inflammatory, using racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and discriminatory language,” the university said.
The sociology department emailed a message to its students that provided more details about the emails.
The emails “praised the white male founding fathers, dismissed our undergraduates with ugly vile language, and called for our land to be ‘purged’ of people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community,” the sociology department said. “The call to ‘purge’ categories of persons, is a white supremacist call for genocide.”
WFU’s Thursday message provided more context to the incident.
“An unknown individual or individuals with malicious intent sought to spread a message of bigotry, division and fear among members of our campus community through emails sent to seven members of our faculty and staff and five offices on campus,” the university said. “Our faculty and staff have worked to protect everyone on our campus while striving to preserve the integrity of the investigation.”
University police are investigating the emails, with the help of local, state and federal authorities.
“We hear the questions posed by some of our students: can you see us, can you hear us, do you understand our lived experiences?” the university said. “Yes, we see you. Yes, we hear you. And, no, we cannot fully understand what some of you are enduring.”
Wake Forest said the emails are “steeped in the vitriol of white supremacy and nationalism,” and were sent to individual and office inboxes associated with the Department of Sociology, the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the LGBTQ Center and the Intercultural Center.
“These emails have hurt, scared, threatened, angered and confused many on our campus in different ways,” the university said. “This cuts at the core of who we are at Wake Forest and impacts us all.”
Although the wording of the emails was intimidating and threatening, no direct and specific threat was made, Wake Forest said. And the emails provided no details of a specific attack on the WFU campus.
“They still managed to elicit the fear the sender intended,” the university said. “Please continue to look out for each other.”
The WFU Anti-Racism Coalition issued a statement Wednesday night regarding the emails.
“Attacks on all marginalized communities can be traced back to one source: white supremacy,” the coalition said. “We urge the Wake Forest administration to institute a zero-tolerance policy for white supremacy to send a clear message of caution to do those who would dare threaten the campus and a message of safety to those trying to embrace it.”