After an ugly e-mail got posted to the Internet and went viral, sparking tensions at the University of Maryland, its president took an unusual step Friday afternoon: He turned to social media to open up the debate, writing frankly of his own struggle with the issue and asking others on campus to weigh in.

Students answered with alacrity — and a lot of anger, in a conversation that continued long after he signed off.

Problems began when, in the wake of a racist incident at the University of Oklahoma earlier this week, someone posted an e-mail from a U-Md. student. A member of U-Md.’s Kappa Sigma fraternity, who has since resigned from the organization, wrote an e-mail to a small group of friends last year that was laced with racial slurs, graphic comments about sex during rush week and a profane dismissal of the idea of “consent.”

Kappa Sigma’s national leaders moved quickly to condemn it and to formally expel the student from the chapter. U-Md. president Wallace Loh had announced to campus Thursday night that school officials were investigating. But as anger simmered about the message, much of it directed squarely at the student who wrote the message, Loh took to Twitter, perhaps in hopes of creating a more civil debate.

The resulting conversation, limited as it was by Twitter’s 140-character limit, was both clipped and sweeping, philosophical.

OU’s president David Boren quickly expelled two students identified in the video that surfaced this week of fraternity members happily joining in a chant that referenced lynching and used racial slurs. It was a decision that was warmly praised by some, for its clear message that hateful speech would not be tolerated at OU, and criticized by others, who said the public university was violating the students’ First Amendment rights. That fraternity chapter has hired a lawyer and is reportedly considering action against OU.

People responded immediately.

Some with anger:

Some with thoughtful questions:

Some with skepticism:




And frustration:

Meanwhile a separate and much uglier conversation went on on Yik Yak; someone tweeted an image from it to show the disdainful and racist comments.

Loh closed with inclusive words (and someone immediately responded questioning them.)

And the conversation continued.