Racist group messages that sent black students at Penn reeling appear to have been connected to a student at the University of Oklahoma, Penn notified students early Saturday morning.
Several black freshmen found themselves this morning being added against their will to a GroupMe message, labeled "Mud Men," rife with racially explicit content.
One member of the group, for example, posted an image of lynchings and then wrote, "I love America." The same person posted an event into the message called "Daily lynching." In what appeared to be another group chat, called "Trump is love," one participant called another a "dumb slave," and another posted a photo of a red hat with the words, "GRAB THEM BY THE P***Y."Saturday at 12:51 a.m., the University sent an email to undergraduates saying that a University of Oklahoma student will be temporarily suspended in connection to the messages. Following an investigation coordinated between Penn Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Gutmann received a call from Oklahoma President David Boren, the email said, notifying her of the suspension, which would be effective immediately.
In a statement included in the email, Boren said, "The University of Oklahoma has made it clear that we will not tolerate racism or hate speech that constitutes a threat to our campus or others. We have a record of taking swift action once all of the facts are known. I have ordered the appropriate officials at our university to open immediate inquiry to determine the extent of involvement by a University of Oklahoma student in this matter."
Penn Police and the FBI will continue the investigation with university police in Oklahoma, the email added, "as additional individuals may be involved."
Penn released a statement on Twitter around 3:40 p.m. saying that the GroupMe account "appears to based in Oklahoma." It added that police and information security staff are working to locate the exact location of the account and staff in the Office of the Vice Provost for University Life are in the process of determining how many students have been reached by the account.
Later Friday afternoon, President Amy Gutmann, Provost Vincent Price and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli sent a letter to the Penn community further addressing the incident.
"We are absolutely appalled that earlier today Black freshman students at Penn were added to a racist GroupMe account that appears to be based in Oklahoma," the letter read. "The account itself is totally repugnant: it contains violent, racist and thoroughly disgusting images and messages. This is simply deplorable. Our police and information security staff are trying to locate the exact source and to determine if any steps can be taken to block the account."
"This is absolutely vile material and completely offensive to everyone on our campus. We are both angry and saddened that it was directed to our students or to anyone. The people responsible for this are reprehensible. We have increased campus safety and are reaching out to support the affected students in every way we can, and want them to know that the entire Penn community stands with them."
"Once I saw the racial slurs…my heart dropped," said a Wharton freshman, a student added to the group, in a written statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian. "I was shocked that I was even added to the GroupMe in the first place, but seeing what was being said just hurt."
Since the revelations, students of color have organized in the Vice Provost of University Life's office to investigate the origins of the group message and voice their concern for the surge in hate speech over the past week. "This is an instance of anti-black racism," said UMOJA co-chair and College senior Tunmise Fawole.
On Friday afternoon, students gathered outside Van Pelt to protest against the messages. Students began handing out safety pins to show solidarity with minority students on Locust Walk, and the pins will also be available at PAACH, MAAKU and the LGBT Center.
A College sophomore at the protest expressed her frustration with the situation. "People ask me everyday am I a student here. I have a f***ing 3.2 GPA, I am about to get my Master's and people ask me every day, do you belong here, explain yourself. So for freshmen, who are made to feel like they don't belong here, freshmen who don't have GPAs yet, freshmen who haven't even taken finals yet, they just got through their midterms which is hell. They'll wake up and see that somebody has set a date for them to be lynched, it's unacceptable and if the entire students body is not upset, shocked and outraged about it, I have nothing else to say."
One student took to Facebook to voice their fear and anger. That post has since been shared over thousands of times, including by Shaun King, a New York Daily News columnist who writes about civil rights, and Deray McKesson, a black rights organizer.
As news of the messages reverberated through campus on Friday, some Penn faculty contacted their students about the incident. English Department Chair Zachary Lesser sent the following email to undergraduate English majors:
History Department Chair Beth S. Wenger also condemned the racist speech in a statement to the Daily Pennsylvanian.
"The faculty of the History Department of the University of Pennsylvania condemn the hateful, racist speech on our campus revealed this morning," the statement said. "As historians, we know too well the personal and social consequences of bigotry. As a department, we remain committed to fostering respect for all throughout the Penn community and denounce these acts of hate in the strongest terms."
Urban studies professor Mary Rocco extended the deadline on a midterm in a class taught by former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell that was previously due Friday at 11:59 p.m.
Penn College Republicans — which did not take a stance on Donald Trump's run for president — released a statement on Facebook denouncing the messages.
"These messages are absolutely despicable," the statement read. "Hate such as this has no place on Penn's campus or in our nation. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected, and we hope that Penn administration and Penn police find the perpetrators as soon as possible."
One comment in the group messages mentioned SAE. In response, Penn's chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon sent a statement to The DP denouncing the racist messages.
"One name implicated involvement from SAE," the statement said. "However, none of the members are a part of the group nor are involved in any way with any of the posts or hatred directed toward individuals.
"Our chapter rejects any association whatsoever with the GroupMe messages, Facebook groups, and the unacceptable and intolerable racism that is associated with those groups. Racism has no place in our chapter or in the Penn community. We are shocked, horrified and enraged by these attacks on members of our community."
The messages quickly garnered attention outside Penn. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney released a statement, according to Philadelphia Magazine, which read in part, "I condemn in the strongest possible terms the racist activity taking place at the University of Pennsylvania. Everyone is welcome in Philadelphia regardless of whether they are a freshman at one of our universities or if they’ve always called Philadelphia home."
Kenney said he would "urge the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to investigate and hold all responsible parties accountable for this disgusting behavior.”
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) also lambasted the messages in a series of tweets:
I will fight by your side to protect your rights and those of every American.— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) November 11, 2016
Feminista Jones, a writer and social worker, said she was organizing students on campus in Huntsman Hall:
Monica Yant-Kinney, a spokesperson for VPUL, said student groups, including UMOJA, met with administrators and the Division of Public Safety on Friday morning to figure out what happened. Information security personnel were also at the meeting to uncover how students were added to the GroupMe chats and whether an external entity was behind it, Yant-Kinney said.
A university staff member told the DP that her phone was "blowing up" with calls from parents, and that she had been told to direct people to VPUL. She said that early Friday afternoon, everyone in VPUL was meeting to discuss the appropriate response.
The Division of Public Safety said in a statement: "Public Safety is working with VPUL and ISC Security to investigate this issue and provide support to the affected students."
This article was last updated on Nov. 12 at 1:37 a.m. Check back for updates.
City News Editor Dan Spinelli and Staff Reporters Rebecca Tan, Kolby Kaller and Nicole Rubin contributed reporting to this story.
Editor's Note: Names of the students who posted on social media have been blurred out after they expressed fear for their safety.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.