The FBI has joined the investigation into the racially tinged assault this week on a University of Virginia student during her campaign for student government president, campus police said yesterday.
No arrests have been made in the incident, which occurred early Wednesday and led to a postponement of the elections, aroused fears across campus and reawakened a debate about race relations at the elite public university.
Though many students were leaving Charlottesville for a week-long spring break, supporters of candidate Daisy Lundy and other students said they are planning marches, candlelight vigils and other efforts to draw attention to what they described as lingering racial problems on campus.
"It's going to put the onus on the administration to deal with this issue," said Tyler Scriven, a sophomore from Jacksonville, Fla., who is president of the Black Student Association. "We want a strong voice from the top saying, 'We're not going to allow these kinds of activities to go on.' "
University officials, meanwhile, said they have been in constant discussions since Wednesday morning to assess the situation and plan a long-term response.
Campus police Capt. Michael Coleman said it is common to seek FBI assistance in the investigation of alleged hate crimes, which are prosecuted under federal statute.
Lundy, a 19-year-old sophomore from Columbia, S.C., told police she was assaulted by an unknown man shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday when she left a friend's room on the historic Lawn at the center of campus to retrieve a cellular phone from her car. The Cavalier Daily student newspaper reported that she told police her assailant slammed her head into the steering wheel and referred to her candidacy with a racial epithet.
Lundy is of African American and Korean descent. She described her assailant as a heavyset white man in a dark coat, wearing a dark hat and light pants. Police said she was treated at a hospital for minor injuries. Friends said yesterday that Lundy had left town, and she could not be located for comment.
The university already was grappling with questions about the status of minority students. The campus was roiled last fall by the revelation of photos from a fraternity Halloween party showing several guests in blackface. The two fraternities involved were disciplined by the university's inter-fraternity council and by their national organizations.
Hours after the attack on Lundy, President John T. Casteen III issued a statement decrying the incident, saying it "insults and offends this community's core values," and convened a campus gathering that attracted more than 500 students.
The incident "scratched into a lot of underlying racial issues here at U-Va. that people want to voice their concerns about," said Andrew Pratt, editor of the Declaration student weekly newspaper.
Officials said they have been working diligently since last fall to address such concerns, convening a task force on diversity and organizing discussion groups on improving working conditions for minorities at the university. Casteen also commissioned former history professor Paul M. Gaston to compile an "unvarnished history" of racial struggles at the school.
While the number of black undergraduates has slipped slightly over the past decade, U-Va. claims the highest graduation rate for African Americans among public universities. Since 1990, the college has elected five black student council presidents.
This year's student election campaign had been unusually tense. Lundy, who was running against two white men, was supported by a coalition of five minority-student groups.
Still, student journalists who covered the elections said race had not emerged as an issue in the campaign, which turned into a battle of the Student Council insiders vs. outsiders after the council's elections committee charged newcomer Lundy with campaign violations that her supporters called unfair.
Lundy had won the most votes in last week's elections and was facing a runoff with the second-highest vote-getter, junior Ed Hallen. Voting had started Tuesday and was supposed to conclude Wednesday night. But officials halted the balloting after the assault and postponed the runoff until after spring break.