Letter Aimed At Black GU Students

By Tim Haggerty Hoya Staff Writer

The university received a letter threatening black students over spring break, the latest in a series of racially motivated incidents that have hit the campus over recent months.

The anonymous letter, received on March 7, threatened “extreme bodily harm,” according to Sgt. Michael Farish of the Second District Metropolitan Police. The case is currently under investigation, though Farish said that investigators, including the Department of Public Safety, the MPD and the FBI “have nothing concrete at this time.”

The letter was received at the Georgetown Station Post Office, according to Darryl Harrison, Associate Director of DPS. He said that the letter contained general threats against the black community as well as at specific individuals. Harrison and Farish refused to elaborate further on the contents of the letter, due to its sensitive nature.

Harrison said that the FBI is working in collaboration with the postal inspector’s office to determine the origin of the letter. FBI representative Sean Burke confirmed that the FBI is involved in the investigation but said that FBI policy prohibits discussion of ongoing investigations.

Dean of Students James A. Donahue said that in the wake of the letter, the university’s main tasks were to ensure that all members of the community were safe and to inform the community about the incident and “let everyone know that we are not going to stand for this.”

University officials contacted the students mentioned in the letter. Donahue said that the threats never reached any individuals because the letter was addressed to the university.

Yesterday, Donahue co-signed a statement addressed to undergraduates with representatives from GUSA, DPS, the Georgetown chapter of the NAACP, the Black Student Alliance and the Center for inority Educational Affairs. The letter notified the community of the incident and announced a community meeting Thursday evening to discuss the issue.

“We have to deal with the realities that we face. We have to stand up against it and enable people to be aware,” Donahue said.

The university is working with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League to address and properly respond to this incident.

David C. Friedman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington Field Office, said that the university’s response to the letter has been ideal. “The way that you deal with these things is direct exposure,” he said, saying that the letter was a responsible reaction.

“This [mail threats] is a much larger problem than the general public knows,” Friedman said. Out of fear for their images and a negative impact on admissions, universities are reluctant to discuss these types of issues, he said.

The unwillingness of universities to make public these issues means that numbers for hate-inspired threats are difficult to come by, but Friedman said that they are “not a rarity.” Most hate crimes occur where people work, live and attend school, making the college campus a likely spot for such incidents. In addition, the most frequent perpetrators of hate crimes are young, Friedman said.

However, he said that the threats do not always come from within the community. He cited a recent case at the University of aryland, where mail threats came from Chicago. “You cannot draw assumptions.”

Donahue said that this is the only mail threat at Georgetown “in recent memory.” Both he and Friedman said that the university must take the threat seriously. “You can never afford to take these kind of things lightly,” Friedman said.

Friedman said that cases of mail threats are resolved “much less than one would like . It is difficult to catch someone who is doing something under the cover of night.”

This comes in the wake of December’s attacks on the Jewish Student Association’s menorah in Red Square and a series of racist, anti-semetic and homophobic slurs over the past months. Donahue said that he did not see any causal relationship between the events of the past months and the letter.

These events prompted the forming of the Unity Coalition, a group consisting of leaders of minority student groups who are currently working with the administration to change university policy and band together in the face of such incidents.

“We believe that we are together as a community behind the values we espouse . it is really significant that the statement [to all undergraduates] is from both the administration and the students. We are all together on this issue,” Donahue said.

The best response against hate crimes is a partnership between students, faculty, campus police and the entire community “that creates a condition where when people commit these acts they see the university grow closer to defeat the acts,” Friedman said.

“You cannot judge an institution based on whether a hate crime happens within it. You judge based on how they react to it.”

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