Dear campus community,
Late in the evening on Wednesday, June 3, we became aware of vile comments alleged to have been posted in a private group on Snapchat, which had been screen captured and posted to Twitter. It came with an allegation that an incoming first-year student was the source of the racist comments.
We were horrified and deeply offended. The comments are antithetical to who we are as an institution, and we could not imagine having such hate in our community. The severity of the content and the deep hurting in our community compelled us to act swiftly. Within hours, we convened a review team to investigate the situation. We sought to demonstrate our values and the campus culture we want to reflect through our actions.
Regardless of how personally offended we were, the review team knew we could not base our decision on strong emotion. We needed to get more information and uphold due process. When the University reached out, we learned the student had already begun her own investigation into what she claimed were false allegations.
By late Thursday night, we had interviewed the student and her parents, contacted her high school, talked with local law enforcement in her hometown, coordinated with Western’s police department, and conducted our own evaluation of the social posts and evidence on social media. That night, the University directly responded with a prepared statement to those who had sent the Twitter post and expressed concerns. The statement failed to mention that we were continuing to gather information and evidence and that our determination was subject to change if conflicting information or evidence became available. We understand this created consternation in our community, for which we apologize.
We have, in fact, collected extensive evidence which leads us to believe that the student did not make this post or say these things, and we want to share that information with you today.
As of this writing, we do not have any credible information that indicates the snap and image of the student’s Facebook profile page was posted with any involvement or action on her part. Posts on social media are saying the University concluded her Snapchat was hacked. This is not accurate. Based on information provided to us, WMU has said we believe the snap was fake—created by someone other than the student (whose name was misspelled on the snap). More precisely, we cannot find any credible connection between the snap and the incoming student other than one individual’s assertion, which cannot be substantiated.
Investigative details are often kept confidential to protect the privacy of witnesses and victims, to avoid creating a chilling effect that may dissuade people with relevant information from coming forward in the future and to comply with the law. However, to demonstrate transparency in an unusual case, we are sharing our investigative details. We are doing so in this instance for the following reasons:
● Much of the evidence and information is already publicly available.
● We are sharing the investigatory details with the student’s consent.
● We moved quickly and judiciously to address an ugly and inflammatory situation. We knew the calls for punishment would be swift and severe. While we are confident in our due diligence, we want the WMU community to be confident as well. This situation matters to all of us.
While we have found no wrongdoing on the part of the accused in this case, unfortunately, we do have instances where students have made racist comments, said repugnant things, or exhibited extremely poor judgment with their words or smartphone cameras. As a public university, we are limited in the corrective steps we can take. Since Tinker v. Des Moines School District in 1969 and in many cases since, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a public university cannot prohibit a student’s expression, even if it is hateful. However, there is much that we can do to consistently state, live out and educate our students on our values.
For example, WMU takes every case of hate speech very seriously. The Office of Student Conduct investigates each one, and determines if there are associated behaviors that have occurred and are subject to our student code or the law. The remedies in such instances are tailored to the circumstance and finding.
As a community, we often state that such speech is not welcome here. Today, President Montgomery shares his thoughts in a message that patently rejects racism in all forms, including hate speech. He goes on to acknowledge, as do we, that institutional racism is real, that it exists at Western and that there are steps we can and will take to eliminate it.
Each of us can express our deep values of inclusion and unfailing rejection of hate. We must continue to create an environment where equity and inclusion can be seen and felt in all we say and do. We must commit ourselves to educating students, faculty and staff that these are the cultural norms that are expected.
We are committed to listening to our students, faculty, staff and alumni to better understand their needs and to respond by identifying short-term and long-term actions that begin to meet them. It is essential that we demonstrate our values through our policies, practices and campus culture. Let each of us commit to providing all students with an education that teaches them to think critically in a diverse world.
We can do more and we must move forward with action.
We have heard from students, faculty, staff and alumni who are equally offended by the content in the image. Our community's response to this incident has demonstrated a desire for transparency on a journey to positively create change in our institution. Western Michigan is truly a university that seeks to value the humanity and dignity of every person. Thank you for your advocacy and for holding your institution accountable for making decisions consistent with our values.
Dr. Diane Anderson, Vice President for Student Affairs
Dr. Jennifer Bott, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs