A few months after William Jones became president of a small liberal arts college in rural Lindsborg, Kan., he and the school apparently became the target of several racist messages written in chalk on campus sidewalks.
One of the messages, which reads “Make Lindsborg white again,” appears to have been inspired by Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Another one is an outline of a dead body. “Rest in peace my friend,” was written beside it, followed by a drawing of a heart.
Last Friday, two weeks after the vandalisms were found, Jones wrote a long Facebook post denouncing the hateful messages that he said were “written in response to the make-up” of his family and to the minority students who are either attending or are being recruited by Bethany College. (An edited version of the essay appeared on Thursday in The Washington Post.)
Jones, who is white, has six kids ages 7 to 14, two of whom are adopted biracial children. A majority of the school’s high number of student athletes tend to be minorities, a spokeswoman for the college told The Washington Post.
Jones said he believes the messages were prompted by a campus event in which he was photographed washing the feet of a black student, a college senior. He said he wanted to show the campus community the value of servant leadership, and he purposely picked out someone whose background is different from his. The racist messages were found shortly after the event last August.
Jones wrote that he had received a call from a man who said he and four others were responsible for the messages.
“That’s right. Think about it. A man called my office to tell me that messages like the outline of a dead body and ‘make Lindsborg white again’ were directed at my family,” Jones wrote. “Let it sink into your mind and heart. Dead body outline. Children. Hate. As a parent, how would you feel?”
Jones further wrote:
“None of the racist perpetrators of the event on campus know my children. They don’t know how my adopted, biracial son, or care how he struggles with a rare, life-threatening kidney disease on a daily basis. Nor do they really care about my youngest daughter who is white. She loves her siblings, all of them (all!), adores pink shorts, and is too scared of flies to hurt one. No, this man doesn’t care about any of those things. He took this deplorable action against my family and me because my family doesn’t have the same skin color.”
“I was just blown away,” Jones said. “I just couldn’t believe it. I was so angry and hurt.”
In a second phone call to Jones last week, the man spoke of his group’s activism and threatened “to instigate the forces of his ‘movement'” to close Bethany College, Jones wrote.
The school, which was founded by Swedish immigrants in 1881, has been having financial issues, Jones said, and the man threatened to persuade college alumni to halt their support unless the school complies with his demands.
“He says things to me like ‘this is what’s going to happen’ and ‘you will’ do X and Y during his brief and troubling calls,” Jones wrote, adding that he’s not worried about the threats.
Tina Goodwin, spokeswoman for Bethany College, said the messages were found the night of Sept. 3 on several sidewalks around campus. The school’s Office of Student Development and local law enforcement have been notified.
The Lindsborg Police Department did not return a call seeking comment.
Goodwin said school officials were able to identify the perpetrators through their social media accounts. She said they live in the surrounding areas of Lindsborg and are not Bethany College students. Officials also are not releasing their names, or the name of the organization they claim to belong.
“We have no desire to give them more of a platform than what they already have,” Goodwin said.
In his Facebook post, which has been shared more than a thousand times, Jones said the messages have caused his wife to fear for their children. Still, he said, he’s not trying to send a message to the perpetrators.
“Even if he reads, this, he still will not care … You can’t debate such hatred,” he wrote.
Instead, Jones said, he’s writing to the campus community to urge them to challenge racism when they encounter it and to get to know people from other races and cultures.
“Hurtful, racist actions are not ‘activism.’ Hate language is not blunt talk,” he wrote. “Think about what you post and share online or the jokes you tolerate. Use your imagination to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, kicks, or sandals. Do the simple thing and threat all people the way you want to be treated.”
Jones wrote that school officials are working to ban the people responsible for the messages. Police also are making extra patrols on campus, he added.
Jones, who’s from Kensee Hollow, Ky., became president of Bethany College in July. He was previously vice president for external relations at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.
On Monday, the Lindsborg City Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting and promoting diversity and inclusiveness in Lindsborg, a town of about 3,400 also known as Little Sweden U.S.A., according to KWCH.
The council’s action was in response to the incidents at Bethany College, where the student population is far more diverse than that of the town.
Of the college’s more than 600 students, 36 percent are minorities, with 18 percent Hispanic and 14 percent black, Goodwin said.
Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of Lindsborg’s population is white, while only 3 percent is Hispanic.
Still, Jones said the incidents at Bethany College are not representative of the town of Lindsborg.
“This is an idyllic little town,” Jones said. “We’re talking about a handful of hateful people who don’t even live in our community and who are trying to create division.”
On Wednesday, a few days after Jones wrote his Facebook post, the Network of ECLA (Evangelical Lutheran College in America) Colleges and Universities issued a statement expressing its “grave concern” over the incidents at Bethany College, which is one of the network’s 26 colleges and universities.
The network called the racist attacks and threats “antithetical to human, Christian and American values.”