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Outside Van Pelt Library, students held signs and spoke in protest of racist GroupMe messages.

Photo: Genevieve Glatsky / The Daily Pennsylvanian

After Penn’s campus was shaken shortly after Election Day by racist GroupMe messages sent to freshman students of color, alumni were both outraged and vocally supportive of students.

In addition to over 3,200 alumni signing a five-page letter of support that appeared in the Nov. 15 issue of The Daily Pennsylvanian, graduates have been calling, writing and commenting on the University’s social media.

“The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Alumni calling and saying, ‘I’m concerned, I care about the students, I’m outraged about what happened — what can I do?’” Executive Director of Alumni Relations Elise Betz said. “It’s the most activity we’ve ever had since we started social media.”

Betz said the Alumni Relations Office has received “hundreds” of messages from alumni, ranging from the recent graduates of the Class of 2016 to members of the Class of 1965. A collection of responses from alumni, including petitions, statements of support and letters, was listed on the Alumni Relations website.

One alumnus, a documentary filmmaker, immediately launched an effort called the Penn Solidarity Video Project to put together five-second clips of support from alumni into a cumulative video.

In another example of alumni support, two days after the GroupMe incident occurred, the Black Alumni Society got together a group of alumni that went and celebrated Thanksgiving with black students at MAKUU, according to Betz. The group of black alumni also started a mentorship program on the spot with the students.

“I was really appalled,” said Geoffrey Laredo, a 1984 College graduate, in reaction to the GroupMe messages. “I was both angry and sad that any students, regardless of who or where they are, would be subject to this harassment and attack. You’re going through school, you want a feeling of safety, and through this portal comes a lot of hate, and that’s all kinds of wrong.”

Ellen King, 2002 College graduate, called the events “disgusting.”

“I’m just really sickened that in the years after I’ve graduated, that these young men and women are still going through this stuff,” she said. “Now? Really? It’s just insane. I hope nobody else decides to target Penn.”

After the University’s swift public investigation brought in the FBI and ended in the suspension of a University of Oklahoma student, Penn alumni expressed satisfaction with how the administration dealt with the incident.

“I was very, very glad to learn it was not originated from our campus and I was very happy with the response from our administration,” King said.

Laredo also said he approved of how administration reacted, especially in reaching out to the University of Oklahoma and law enforcement.

“To the degree that I understood what was going on, I thought it was really spot-on and comprehensive,” he said. “There was no fooling around, no delaying. It was appropriately aggressive.”

Penn’s administration kept students and alumni updated on the school’s investigation of the incident through multiple emails and social media updates posted on Penn’s Facebook, Instagram and official websites.

Sherman Ragland, a 1986 Wharton MBA graduate, said he was particularly satisfied with President Amy Gutmann’s presence in the investigation.

“I was very proud of our president — I didn’t even know what the incident was until I saw her reaction to it, and that’s when I got all the details of what happened,” Ragland said. “I think she is to be commended for the speed in which she and her staff dealt with the issue. As someone who’s always interested in what’s going on with the student life at Penn, and as an alum, I was just really pleased to see how she acted really quickly to get to the bottom of it.”

The targeting of Penn students by an individual outside of the community raised questions among alumni about how the alleged attacker had managed to get access to the students’ phone numbers, as well as speculations about why Penn students in particular had been targeted. The investigation determined that a formerly admitted student had added students to the GroupMe. The tense results of the presidential election were fresh on some graduates’ minds.

“I don’t want to speculate,” King said. “But I think Penn was targeted because of the Trump family.”

Betz acknowledged that the national mood was tense after the election, but said there wasn’t any clear connection between Trump’s status as a 1968 Wharton graduate and the racial hate act that occurred.

“There’s been no proof Penn students were targeted because Trump was an alum,” Betz said. “It’s hard to not think there’s some connection, but we don’t have anything definitive.”

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