Wake Forest University Increases Security After Racist Emails

Students attending certain classes at Wake Forest University in North Carolina must now endure armed police officers guarding their classrooms after 12 faculty members received threatening emails earlier in September. The university’s police department, along with state and federal agencies, launched an investigation into the threats.

Members of the university’s sociology department were the first to receive the offensive emails that included calls for a national purge of nonwhite people, The Washington Post reported. At least five other racist and homophobic emails were sent to the school’s department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the LGBTQ Center, and the Intercultural Center.

“The emails were intentionally inflammatory, using racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and discriminatory language,” the university said in an email to students, faculty, and staff on September 17. University administrators said no specific threats were made in the emails, according to The Charlotte Observer.

The offensive messages came on the heels of a particularly racially fraught spring semester at the North Carolina university. The school’s sociology department had participated in anti-racist demonstrations on campus and conducted research into how the university’s sale of enslaved people funded Wake Forest’s endowment.

Professor Joseph Soares, chairman of the sociology department, told The Washington Post he felt the department was harassed because of its role in the demonstrations and research. “We felt we were targeted,” the professor said. “I was disgusted, outraged, and also fearful for my community.”

Soares was one of the recipients of the emails, many of which shared praise for “the standards set by well raised white men.”

“We need to stop all diversity programs and restore what made the West the greatest force for true progress in the history of the world,” the email sent to Soares said. “I agree with the right on one thing, that we need to purge this country of the hyper-emotional, hyperbolic, and the hyper-pigmented.”

Soares said that his faculty members were singled out in a manner that alarmed administrators because the messages implied that the writer was familiar with the department’s building. He noted that one of the racist emails was sent to a Black administrative assistant whose photo is not included on the department’s website.

Also, anti-gay emails were sent to faculty members with stickers on their office doors that indicated a safe space for LGBTQ people. In an email to students, the sociology department explained that the person sending the emails had “praised the white male founding fathers, dismissed our undergraduates with ugly vile language, and called for our land to be ‘purged’ of people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community,” the Wake Forest Review, the university’s independent online student publication, reported.

“We live in a society plagued by racism, sexism, and gun violence,” the message to students concluded. “We will do all we can to carry forward our scholarship, teaching, and our public engagement for social justice.”

In response, some sociology professors canceled classes, a university spokeswoman told The Washington Post. Wake Forest University did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for additional comment.

Last spring, the private university dealt with a flurry of racist incidents, including the revelation that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s (D) yearbook page included a photo of a person in blackface posing with another person wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe. Wake Forest University President Nathan Hatch was forced to address the school community about the racist imagery and language in earlier editions of the school’s yearbook.

In late February, Dean of Admissions Martha Allman apologized to the campus for a photo in the 1982 yearbook in which she posed with members of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity around a giant Confederate flag. The Washington Post reported that another admissions official was also in photos with a Confederate flag.

A month later, faculty members of the College of Arts and Sciences condemned the university’s response to the discoveries. “These events are consistent with previous failures by university leaders to address anti-Black racism and white supremacy at Wake Forest with the urgency and transparency that they warrant,” faculty wrote.

In April, community members joined a speak-out on campus and displayed banners calling for an end to white supremacy at the university. After the demonstrations and the research uncovering the ties between the university’s endowment and the sale of enslaved persons, Hatch announced in July the school’s commitment to acknowledge and research its ties to slavery and racism.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.