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Graffiti sparks fear, action at UW-RF

Students gather Thursday at UW-River Falls' student union, where poster board was placed, allowing students to speak out against intolerance. The campus community is bracing for Monday, when a threat against Asian and black students is purported to take place.

RIVER FALLS - Nathan Korir is frightened.

The Kenya native couldn't believe his ears when he heard this week about threatening racist graffiti left on a bathroom wall at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Though sloppy, the handwriting spells out a clear message: Black and Asian students will be targeted on Monday.

"It scares me away," said Korir, a freshman at the university. "I feel like I want to transfer to another school. I've never seen anything like this."

Campus officials were alerted to the message late Sunday after another student discovered it written on a bathroom wall in the Chalmer Davee Library. City and campus police are investigating.

UW-RF Media Relations Director Kevin Harter said no suspects have been identified.

The incident - which university leaders say is being taken as a credible threat - was swiftly denounced by UW-RF administration. Soon after, university officials met with Asian and African-American student groups, and sent out mass e-mails.

"Clearly we need to take it seriously, and we are," Harter said.

That will include increased patrols Monday among city and campus police. Pierce and St. Croix county sheriff's departments have been notified, as have River Falls K-12 school officials.

UW-RF Chancellor Dean Van Galen will address the campus community at 9 a.m. Monday.

"We condemn such cowardly and ignorant actions and reaffirm our commitment to creating and fostering a diverse and inclusive campus culture," he said Tuesday in an e-mail to all students.

The message reads, "Almost time of the destruction of blacks + Asians here 11-2-09." The threat does not say where or how it might be carried out.

Craig Morris, the university's inclusiveness officer, said he was not surprised by the incident, but is deeply concerned by the specific nature of the threat.

"I'm deeply disappointed," Morris said Friday. "This campus is better than that. Much better than that."

Still, Morris said he is pleased to see how the campus has responded to the incident.

All students have been encouraged on Monday to wear red - UW-RF's school color - as a sign of campus solidarity.

"People are saying, 'I want to come decked out in red,'" said student Amber Linscheid, one of many people Thursday visiting a poster-boards placed in the university's student union, where students were encouraged to write messages opposing intolerance.

Harter said 2,000 anti-hate buttons also will be distributed Monday to students.

Some students were planning rallies for Monday, campus officials said.

Still, concern was palpable among the threatened students milling near the message boards.

"Everyone is not sure whether they'll go to school or not (on Monday)," said freshman Mao Lee, a Wausau, Wis., resident who said she emigrated five years ago from Thailand.

Classes and activities will proceed as planned, though students can arrange excused absences if they prefer, Van Galen said in a Thursday e-mail to students.

Sophomore student Laura Blohm said the threat stunned both her roommate - a Chinese exchange student - and her boyfriend, who she said is Korean.

"I don't feel it's right that they should feel scared to go to class because of this," she said.

The predominately white campus witnessed a similar incident in March 2004 when racist graffiti was found in bathroom stall at an off-campus restaurant. Harter said there appears no connection to Sunday's discovery. No violence resulted from that threat, which also referenced the UW-RF campus.

According to 2008 UW System statistics, 88 of UW-RF's 6,555 students identified themselves as African-American, while 149 identified themselves as Asian.