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WWU police arrest student in connection to social media threats

Moderator Karen Dade, associate dean of Woodring College of Education speaks during a meeting of the Western Washington University President’s Taskforce on Equity, Inclusion and Diversity on Monday, Nov. 30, on the Bellingham campus. At left is WWU President Bruce Shepard and at right is Larry Estrada, associate professor, Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies.
Moderator Karen Dade, associate dean of Woodring College of Education speaks during a meeting of the Western Washington University President’s Taskforce on Equity, Inclusion and Diversity on Monday, Nov. 30, on the Bellingham campus. At left is WWU President Bruce Shepard and at right is Larry Estrada, associate professor, Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies. pdwyer@bellinghamherald.com

Western Washington University Police have arrested a student in connection with a threat posted on the online social media platform Yik Yak.

The arrest comes less than a week after WWU President Bruce Shepard canceled classes for one day due to racially charged social media posts and threats.

Tysen Campbell, 19, was arrested on campus Monday, Nov. 30, according to the school. He has been booked into Whatcom County Jail on suspicion of malicious harassment, a felony. He has been suspended and barred from campus pending the outcome of legal proceedings and the university’s conduct process, according to the school.

On Friday night, Nov. 27, Shepard revealed the most alarming posts that led to his decision to cancel classes last Tuesday. He specifically referred to one post on the social media app Yik Yak that reportedly read, “lynch her,” referring to Belina Seare, president of WWU’s Associated Students. That post has since disappeared.

Another post, according to school officials, reads: “In protest, we should hang a bunch of nooses from trees like Viking used to kill Abbey monks.” A reply to that post reads, “Yeah, and we can all dress up in white cloaks and we can have black people play the monks!”

The racially charged posts were likely in response to the idea of replacing the school’s Viking mascot, as reported by The Western Front, WWU’s student newspaper.

It was unclear Monday night what Campbell posted that led to the arrest, and university spokesman Paul Cocke would not comment on what threats Campbell allegedly made. University police are continuing their investigation of other messages that targeted students of color.

Campbell, from Granite Falls, Wash., is a sophomore at Western and is on the school’s track and field team, according to Western’s website.

Western delivered a search warrant to Yik Yak to try to track down the authors of the threatening posts. The Bellingham Police Department assisted campus police with the investigation.

In the letter to campus that Shepard wrote Friday, he warned that any arrests won’t address all the issues at Western.

“Assuming we are able to ‘get’ those making the posts, that still does almost nothing to address the very real long-term matters of campus climate that we, and universities across the country, must continually improve,” Shepard wrote.

Campus forum

On Monday morning, WWU held a gathering to discuss systemic racism on campus. An estimated 350 people came, according to the school.

Shepard was the first to speak at the gathering, and he was greeted with tentative applause.

“What we saw posted was a more public and perhaps more extreme display of what our students of color experience daily,” Shepard told a crowd of people at the university. “There is nothing funny here. These are forms of violence. It’s why people understandably walk our campus in fear.”

Shepard said the forum on Monday was the first of a series of conversations across campus on the issue.

“I’m here to apologize to our faculty, staff and students of color. It should not have taken an incident such as this for all of us to recognize and empathetically understand their experiences,” later adding, “black lives must, evermore, matter.”

A panel of faculty members and one graduate student answered a series of questions related to racial issues on campus.

The three questions the panel was asked were: What are your fears at Western; what are your hopes for Western; and what steps should we take to delve deeper into what ails and heals us as a university?

In response to the question about the hopes for the university, panelist and graduate student Alex Ng advised that these conversations should make people feel uncomfortable.

“As we go forward as an entire community and as individuals, what we’re asking people to do is choose to be uncomfortable, which is kind of crazy, but it’s so important that we do that and we have to have the courage to do that together,” Ng said.

There will be several listening sessions, according to the school, and the university’s Campus Equity and Inclusion Forum will hold nine workshops between now and Dec. 11.

Protection for students

Latino Advocacy, a group representing Seare and Abby Ramos, vice president of diversity for the student government, sent out an open letter detailing how the students were treated by school administrators and police after they felt threatened on social media.

Seare, according to the letter, posted on Twitter on Nov. 22 to clear up what she and Ramos viewed as misinformation regarding the idea to change mascots. After seeing the posts on social media, the two students joined a meeting with university officials and campus police at 5 p.m. that day to discuss the lynching threat.

Later that night, the students asked that a WWU alert be sent out, that campus police provide them full protection and that the police monitor online comments. The campus police, according to the letter, denied all those requests.

The next morning, on Tuesday, after the students had been in contact with Shepard through the night, they learned that classes had been canceled. Later Tuesday, the students were told that campus police would provide them with a hotel but not personal security.

“Students felt it was too little, too late,” according to the letter.

Shepard, in his letter to campus, said it was agreed that the students should be provided 24-hour police protection. When he called Seare to notify her this would be possible, he never received a response.

In an interview Monday, Shepard said there was likely some communication problems but he didn’t want to get into an argument into what was said and where.

He said he has not been in contact with the students the last few days but another school official has been reaching out to them.

At the forum Monday, the loudest cheers from the crowd came when political science professor Vernon Damani Johnson, a panelist, read the last line of the students’ open letter.

“Conversations or solutions that fail to center and include students are inadequate,” the letter read. “In your classrooms, in your task forces, in your meetings about student safety on campus, remember: Nothing about us without us.”

Wilson Criscione: 360-756-2803, @wilsoncriscione

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