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Repeated acts of vandalism including racist threat worry students at Salisbury University

SALISBURY — Repeated episodes of offensive graffiti inside a Salisbury University building this fall have sparked fears among students — fears that intensified this week when graffiti included racist threats, leading students to rally to demand that the university do more to keep people safe.

“Sandy Hook comes to SU kill [racial slur]” was found written inside a prominent academic building on campus. Photos of that message — which appeared to invoke the 2012 shooting in a Connecticut elementary school in which 26 people were killed — and other offensive comments were widely shared on social media this week.

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“We don’t feel safe here,” said Jamil Charles, a sophomore from Baltimore. “It feels like we’re not wanted here because of those threatening messages.”

Charles and another student went on Instagram Live on Monday to rally students to Fulton Hall, the site of the graffiti. Administrators came to talk with the growing group, but Charles said he thought they were papering over the problem. “It’s infuriating,” he said.

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He said many students planned to wear all black and march into the library Tuesday evening to talk about possible solutions before meeting with the university’s president that night.

Charles A. Wight, president of the public university on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, wrote in an email to campus Monday that the students’ “message was powerful and one that will help guide discussions on safety and University actions going forward.”

“I am personally outraged by these acts of racially and sexually charged vandalism, with the most recent evoking violence,” Wight wrote. “They are abhorrent and do not reflect the core values of our University. Moreover, we have a responsibility as a university to address systemic issues of racism, and we need your help.”

He invited students to join him and other administrators Tuesday night to talk about the incidents and how the university can move forward as a community.

Yayé Sy, a biology major at Salisbury who is hoping to go to medical school, said she feels “like I’m not safe at this school.” As a black Muslim woman at a predominantly white university, she said, she should feel as comfortable as her white classmates.

“I shouldn’t have to feel unprotected due to blatant threats and racial slurs being thrown at me and my people,” she said.

Sy said students intend to force administrators to listen and to make immediate changes. Gun threats should be taken more seriously, she said.

On social media, people expressed alarm, disgust and frustration. “This has been happening at Salisbury University for months now in Fulton Hall; no action has been done. Protect your students, SU. This is disturbing,” one person wrote on Twitter.

Another wrote on Twitter that she was ashamed to attend Salisbury because of repeated incidents and because “the administration has done little to catch this person.”

Jason Rhodes, a spokesman for the university, said he couldn’t release specific details about the incidents because of an ongoing police investigation.

Security is being increased on campus, and administrators will continue to meet with students while a long-term plan is developed, Rhodes wrote in an email.

“As a University, SU remains resolute together and condemns any and all forms of hatred, racism, bigotry or supremacist ideology that seek to hurt, terrorize, bully or marginalize any members of our community,” Rhodes wrote.

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School officials are offering a reward for information leading to an arrest and prosecution in the case. A local group, Crime Solvers of the Lower Eastern Shore, announced Tuesday that it is offering a cash reward of up to $1,000 in the case, too, Rhodes said.

Several students expressed concern that the person who wrote the message had not been identified, and they said more cameras are needed on campus.

The university doesn’t identify the locations of its security cameras for safety reasons, Rhodes said. “I can say there are over 750 cameras in use throughout campus, including inside academic buildings,” he said.

The graffiti was found in Fulton Hall, the main academic building for Salisbury University’s Charles R. and Martha N. Fulton School of Liberal Arts. The building houses classrooms, studios, and gallery and performance space for the school’s music, theater and art programs, Rhodes said.

Sy said she feels like she has to constantly be looking over her shoulder. “It could be one of our roommates, it could be someone in my class” who wrote the message, she said. “It could be anyone.”

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