After a racist thread on social media sparked outrage on a Washington state campus, college officials sent students home a day early for the Thanksgiving holiday. Western Washington University sent out an alert canceling classes and an email to students from President Bruce Shepard on Tuesday morning. It's unknown if the people who posted the threats are students at the state university in Bellingham, but the posts were made from a phone located within 10 miles of campus, Shepard said. "I need to be very clear here: We are not talking the merely insulting, rude, offensive commentary that trolls and various other lowlifes seem free to spew, willy nilly, although there has been plenty of that, too. No, this was hate speech," Shepard wrote in the email. Threats against minorities were posted over the weekend on YikYak, an anonymous social media platform.
The posts mentioned almost every ethnic group, blaming them for an effort on campus to debate changing the university's mascot, a Viking. The threats came days after some student leaders suggested that the mascot is racist. Most of the online comments contained racist language and profanity, making fun of the mascot. One post called black students crying babies and another complimented the school for having an "overtly Aryan" mascot. The university of about 15,000 students boasts that nearly a quarter of its enrollees are from minority groups. Law enforcement officials do not believe there is a threat to general campus security, but Shepard said a threat to any Western student is an attack on the whole college community. The decision to cancel classes was precautionary and to make sure students were safe, he said.