On Friday Nov. 11, student body president Ariana Fowler became aware of Vanderbilt students being added to a GroupMe message that included racist material and lynching threats.
Screenshots of the GroupMe message circulated around Facebook all weekend. According to these screenshots, the message either changed names between “Mud Men” and “Trump is Love,” or multiple group messages exist that go by each of these names. The screenshots reveal messages being sent with slurs including the “n-word” and references to lynching. One student made a calendar event in the chat entitled “Daily Lynching.” Many of the students who had been added to the chats attend the University of Pennsylvania, Donald Trump’s alma mater.
Originally, rumors said that the group message was started at the University of Pennsylvania, but the Daily Pennsylvanian reported that the racist messages have been linked to a student at the University of Oklahoma. The article also states that the student has been temporarily suspended from school. The university police in Oklahoma, along with the FBI, are continuing the investigation to determine whether any additional individuals were involved.
Fowler posted on Facebook on Friday night asking that students who were added to the chat both report the incident to VUPD and reach out to her, as she was in contact with administration. She said that every student she is aware of that had been added to the chat immediately left.
One Vanderbilt student tried to get back into the chat to look for more names of Vanderbilt students, but the group no longer showed up on his GroupMe app, Fowler said. This is reasonable cause to believe that the message has since been deleted.
As soon as she heard about the incident Friday night, Fowler reached out to Dean of Students Mark Bandas as well as VUPD and Vanderbilt Student Government advisors.
“They kept asking for more specific names. They kept asking for specifics,” Fowler said. “They also wanted to clarify whether students were being added voluntarily or without their permission, which I don’t know. The fact that people were added and immediately left makes me think that they were added without their permission, because why else would they leave immediately?”
Anyone who has been added to the GroupMe should both report the incident to VUPD and alert her or the Dean of Students office directly, according to Fowler.
“The Dean of Students has been trying to get all the name, because they want to personally reach out to those students to make sure they’re ok,” Fowler said. “I know people were interested in reporting to VUPD and I’m not sure if they did.”
Fowler cited this incident as an example of several hateful actions that have occurred following the presidential election of Donald Trump Nov. 8.
“For those who don’t understand why people are afraid, this was really great evidence of that,” Fowler said. “I think we all need to be having very real conversations as for how students are affected and stop writing things off. I hear a lot of people saying ‘They are overreacting. What do they have to be afraid of?’”
While several articles online have reported on this incident and others that have targeted minority groups since the election on Tuesday, this one hits closer to home.
“A lot of the harassment issues are very distant, but this is not the first incident that has happened since Wednesday,” Fowler said. “There have been several reported incidents that have happened. This has been a really tangible one. I hope that this will continue the conversation, but I’m not sure where the conversation will go.”