Salisbury University President Charles A. Wight decided to cancel classes following meetings Wednesday with students and administrators.
“Tonight, our campus is under attack by a coward,” Wight said in a statement Wednesday. “An attack on some members of our campus community is an attack on all of us, and we all need to respond.”
Wight said he canceled classes Thursday “to give us all the opportunity to come together to process what we are experiencing, support each other and figure out how we can move forward together as a community.”
Classes were scheduled to resume Friday.
Officials at the school on Maryland’s Eastern Shore said university police were working with local law enforcement and the FBI to investigate the incident.
In November, Salisbury University police launched an investigation into messages scrawled on the walls of two stairwells in Fulton Hall that warned, “Sandy Hook comes to SU kill [racial slur].” Images of the comment, which appeared to refer to the 2012 shooting that left 26 people dead at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., were posted on social media. Police have made no arrests in that incident.
African American students make up about 16 percent of the university’s 8,700 student population, according to university spokesman Jason Rhodes. The latest discovery of racist threats prompted a range of emotions among those students.
“We’re scared, but we’re not going to hide in fear. We’re not going to show we’re afraid,” said Aji Sarr, 22, an African American senior majoring in social work.
Sarr said Salisbury administrators made the right decision when they canceled classes, but she wants the university to take more aggressive steps to find out who was responsible for the graffiti and to make sure all students are protected.
“The moment I have to question my safety on campus is the moment I realized I’m not safe,” she said.
The youth and college chapter of the NAACP at Salisbury issued a statement calling for accountability by the administration.
“We will no longer tolerate these racist acts on our campus,” the civil rights organization said in a statement. “It is time to make our voice louder than it has ever been. Do not lose hope and please keep fighting with us.”
Though classes were canceled Thursday, much of the campus, including the college’s counseling center and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, remained open. The university held meetings and sessions to address student concerns and answer questions. Faculty and staff were encouraged to meet with students, and the university announced an increased police presence on campus.
Jay A. Perman, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, condemned “this abhorrent act” and offered his support to the school and students.
“Hate speech and harassment have absolutely no place in the University System of Maryland,” Perman said in a statement. “The Salisbury community has the University System’s complete support as the investigation proceeds and as students, faculty, and staff come together to examine issues of race and racism, inclusion and intolerance.”
Despite the school’s efforts and assurances from the administration, some students remained worried.
“It hurts. It’s happening again and I’m upset and angry,” said Sadé Herbert, 21, an African American senior majoring in community health. Herbert is a member of the university’s gospel choir, which planned to meet Thursday night.
“We’re going to have a prayer circle to pray for everyone who is affected by this,” she said. “We’re also praying for the person who is doing this, because they may not be in the right mindset.”