Wednesday: Series of racist threats roil St. Thomas campus

  • Article by: JEFF SHELMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 1, 2007 - 4:11 PM

"We're not going to leave," say the three black female students targeted. The university is investigating and providing extra security.

Security guards escorted Malaika Smith and her two roommates to their classes at the University of St. Thomas on Wednesday. A public safety officer is posted outside their second-floor dormitory room 24 hours a day.

Since late Monday, Smith and her roommates, all of whom are black, have received racist and threatening notes at the John Paul II Hall, a women's dorm. Three of the notes were either scrawled on a message board on the dorm door, taped to the outside of the door or slipped under it. The fourth was slipped under the door of a computer lab in John Paul II Hall where one of the women was working.

University President the Rev. Dennis Dease denounced the incidents as a hate crime, and a "Stop the Hate" rally and march have been planned for today.

"I never thought I would have to walk around campus with an officer," said Smith, a 19-year-old sophomore who grew up in Minneapolis. "But in extreme times you have to take measures."

She shares the dorm room with fellow sophomores Danielle Matthias and Aquanette Early.

St. Thomas spokesman Jim Winterer said that while university officials don't know what prompted the threats, they are "taking the incidents as seriously as we can take it." A St. Paul police officer is also active in the investigation.

After the first two incidents in the dorm, which is usually accessible only to residents and guests, were reported early Tuesday, the school sent public safety bulletins by e-mail to every student and to all faculty and staff members. A third incident occurred Tuesday evening and the fourth early Wednesday, prompting another e-mail alert.

"What you have are individuals who are ignorant and insensitive to the humanity of all persons," said Lawrence Potter, executive director of institutional diversity at St. Thomas. "This is simply an assault on the entire community, and it's unacceptable. Not only is it illegal, it's intolerable."

Students of color make up a little more than 10 percent of the St. Thomas student body, which includes about 5,800 undergraduates. There are no solid numbers on how many of those students are black.

This is the third time in 2007 that St. Thomas has dealt with racial issues. In February and March, racial slurs were written on posters in lounge areas of McNeely Hall.

In its previous campus safety reports to the federal government, St. Thomas did not report any hate crimes from 2003 to 2006.

Smith said she was shocked, then angry, when the first message was found on the dry erase board on the door of the room. She said she and her roommates are resolved not to be intimidated.

"It's a great school to be at," Smith said. "This is the first time I've ever experienced a hate crime like this. Nobody's ever called me any racial slurs before or nobody's ever made it known that they don't like me because I'm African-American. That's why it was so shocking for me."

Lauren Miller, the resident assistant on the women's floor, found the third of four notes taped to their door.

"It was pretty explicit," Miller said. "It had profanity and a pretty harsh threat.

"The girls it happened to have a really good support system," she said. "It's good in that sense, but it's horrible what has happened to them."

Smith said it would be difficult to determine who wrote the notes by the handwriting.

"It looks like somebody wrote with their left hand, to tell you the truth," Smith said. "I'm not sure [whether it was a man or woman]. Usually men have a little sloppier penmanship, but it seems like if it was a female, they were using their left hand so their penmanship wouldn't be identified as easily."

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  • A timeline of the threats

    Wednesday October 31, 2007

    1:30 a.m. Tuesday: Racially threatening writing found on a residence door on the second floor of John Paul II Hall...

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