University of Mary Washington administrators did not respond publicly after the report of a hateful note posted February 5, 2017, on campus, because “we felt this was an isolated incident that had been contained,” said Anna B. Billingsley, Associate Vice President for University Relations.
Their silence ended ten days later, when student newspaper The Blue & Grey Press published a story about the incident.
“There was widespread public outcry once the article came out, and we felt we needed to address it,” Billingsley said.
A letter from UMW Vice President for Student Affairs Juliette Landphair to the UMW community was posted on social media on February 16 (attached to this article as a .pdf), and President Troy Paino released a video a few hours later. “It’s an incident involving a reprehensible note that was posted on campus,” Paino said in part. “There is an ongoing investigation into the matter,” he continued. “I want to assure you that this note is contrary to everything that UMW stands for, as reflected in our statement of values.” (The entire video is posted at the end of this story.)
“The administration first learned of the note because a student posted it on their personal social media account,” Billingsley said. She saw it on Monday morning, Feb. 6.
“My office monitors social media regularly, and I alerted our office of student affairs,” Billingsley said. “They’d seen the post at about the same time.”
According to The Blue & Grey Press, junior Ahad Shahid had found the note on Sunday, Feb. 5, and posted a picture of it.
Found by a friend on the board outside of LeeWill we stay silent UMW? Or should we continue being proud of exposed differences?@UMaryWash pic.twitter.com/0d3qssLK5a— Ahad Shahid (@shahid_ahad) February 5, 2017
“Ahad Shahid and friend Chad Mundie were walking past Lee Hall after watching the film “Moana” on the evening of Feb. 5, when they found a handwritten Swastika on the bulletin board in front of Madison Hall, UMW’s gender neutral housing,” Kelly Emmrich wrote in her article.
Billingsley said once the administration saw the post of the note, action was taken immediately. “The Division of Student Affairs notified campus police, met with the student, and convened a meeting of the threat assessment team,” she said. The Fredericksburg Police Department and the FBI were also notified, which is standard protocol is such instances, Billingsley said.
“We felt the meeting with the student went satisfactorily,” Billingsley said.
Shahid felt differently, according to The Blue & Grey Press. “Shahid went in for a meeting with Dean Rucker regarding his tweet and overall concerns for campus safety. Shahid left the meeting feeling unsatisfied and unsure about the future of campus safety,” they reported. “Shahid expressed that he wants to see UMW administration implement some more safety tactics….”
The note was allegedly posted outside Lee Hall, along Campus Walk, Billingsley said. School officials do not have the original note, nor do they know who posted it — student or non-student.
Lee Hall includes the student book store and The Underground dining and activity center, and “is a hub of student activity,” she said. Across Campus Walk from Lee Hall is Madison, a dorm with gender neutral housing, Billingsley said. School administration do not believe there is a connection.
“We don’t see this as an attack on the gender neutral dorm,” Billingsley said. “It is hateful regardless of where it was posted.”
Fliers were subsequently posted February 16 on campus that read, “Attention Nazis! We aren’t the ones hiding.” Billingsley said the administration is not overly concerned. “We believe it’s just a reflection of an active student body making their voices known; a natural dialogue on a college campus; a response by people who are upset.”
The university supports and encourages free speech, but does not tolerate “something so reprehensible” as the note left on February 5, she said. “We value diversity, and we honor inclusion, and we want people to express themselves, but not in hateful or offensive ways.”
Security is in place, Billingsley said. “We have a really vigilant campus police force, and they are keeping a sharper eye out on things.”
“We consider ourselves a close knit community,” she said.
University of Mary Washington President Troy Paino released a video at 8:21 p.m. February 16, in response to the article in The Blue & Grey Press:
A message to the #UMW community: pic.twitter.com/RokOeDp8di— Troy Paino (@PresTPain) February 17, 2017
FBI Investigating Hate Note at UMW