Several students contacted by The Washington Post did not immediately respond to messages Friday. The story was first reported by the campus newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian.
Ron Ozio, a spokesman for the university, said in an email, “Earlier today a number of Black freshman students at Penn were added to a racist Group Me account that appears to be based in Oklahoma. The account contains violent, racist and thoroughly repugnant images and messages. Our police and information security staff are trying to locate the exact source and see what steps can be taken to cut the account off.”
Staff in the office of the vice provost of university life are identifying students who were affected and providing support, he said. “The university is taking every step possible to address both the source of the racist material and the impact it has had on Black students on campus.”
UPenn College Republicans responded with a post on their group Facebook page: “These messages are absolutely despicable. Hate such as this has no place on Penn’s campus or in our nation. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected, and we hope that Penn administration and Penn police find the perpetrators as soon as possible.”
It was one of many ugly incidents at college campuses across the country this week, including students wearing blackface, slurs written or shouted, and angry confrontations as protests continued in many places in the days after Donald Trump was elected president. Racial tensions have been high nationally over the past year, with protests over police violence and bias incidents, but there seemed to be a surge in recent days.
At Wake Forest University, some freshmen ran out of a dorm early Wednesday celebrating Trump’s victory and using slurs, including the n-word. University officials condemned the behavior and said two suspects have been identified.
At Texas State University, fliers with racially offensive messages were glued to mirrors in bathrooms on campus. One, full of expletives, warned that “ ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘diversity’ are code words for ‘white genocide.’ ”
Debra Monroe, a professor there, said students were frightened and upset, which is unusual for a school that prides itself on its diversity. She spent an hour Friday just talking with some of them. “Students of color were talking about things that have happened to them in the last 48 hours on campus,” she said, and were telling her that they had been harassed because of their race or ethnicity this week. Some of them were in tears.
Matt Flores, a spokesman for Texas State, said the fliers have been removed and a criminal investigation is underway.
At Penn, President Amy Gutmann and other university leaders issued a statement Friday evening saying they are “absolutely appalled” by the incident, which read, in part:
The account itself is totally repugnant: it contains violent, racist and thoroughly disgusting images and messages. This is simply deplorable. …This is absolutely vile material and completely offensive to everyone on our campus. We are both angry and saddened that it was directed to our students or to anyone. The people responsible for this are reprehensible. We have increased campus safety and are reaching out to support the affected students in every way we can, and want them to know that the entire Penn community stands with them.We must reiterate how absolutely essential it is to the core values of our community, and also to the well-being of our society and world, that all persons be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. The racism of this GroupMe message is profoundly inimical to what we stand for as a university. We will take every step possible to counteract its appalling bias. And we all stand together in solidarity with our Black students who have been so terribly targeted.