Racist Note That Triggered Massive Protest at St. Olaf College Was Fabricated

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By Jillian Kay Melchior | 10:56 am, May 11, 2017
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After a student said she found a racist note on her windshield late last month, hundreds of St. Olaf College students gathered in the student union to protest, issuing demands and even prompting the university to cancel class.

But that note, students learned Wednesday, was “fabricated.”

In a series of emails, St. Olaf’s president David R. Anderson said administrators “confronted a person of interest who confessed to writing the note,” but federal privacy laws kept him from identifying the author.

The note was “apparently a strategy to draw attention to concerns about the campus climate,” Anderson said, adding there was “no ongoing threat from this incident” to students.

The controversy began April 29, when a senior named Samantha Wells used social media to show a racist note she said had been left on her windshield. It read: “I am so glad you are leaving soon. One less [racial slur] this school has to deal with. You have spoken up too much. You will change nothing. Shut up or I will shut you up.”

At least two other students at the school of about 3,100 in Northfield, Minn., had also recently reported receiving racist notes.

Wells told local police that after she posted a photo of the note on her windshield, she lit it on fire “because she didn’t want to look at it or have it anywhere near her.” She later declined to pursue a criminal case, the Star-Tribune reported.

She did not immediately respond to our request for comment. According to the Star-Tribune, Wells posted vague comments on social media Wednesday: “I will be saying it was a hoax. I don’t care. There is nothing more that I can do.”

After news of the note first spread, hundreds of students conducted a sit-in. Calling themselves the “Collective for Change on the Hill,” students soon issued a list of demands, which included mandatory diversity training for all staff and students, changes to the general education curriculum that would require students to take two classes on race, ethnicity and gender, and the hiring of more people of color.

They also demanded that St. Olaf College remove one of its alumni, Arne Christenson, from the advisory board of the Institute for Freedom & Community, which often invites guest speakers to discuss and debate political and social issues.

“Given Mr. Christenson’s political views and values as a Christian Zionist, St. Olaf College risks his influence upon the speakers brought to the school, the educational offerings, faculty development workshops, and scholarships sanctioned by the Institute through financial means,” the list of demands said.

The Collective for Change on the Hill issued a statement Wednesday calling the hoax “a terrible revelation for us,” adding that they “unconditionally condemn such an attempt at fabrication because it questions the legitimacy of our demands for institutional change—reform that has been long overdue.”

But the students also made it clear that they were not backing down from their demands, saying that a single hoax “does not invalidate the experiences of others and it does not invalidate institutional racism.”

In an interview with the Star-Tribune, one sophomore said that the fake note had “started something good,” even if it “was not necessarily the best way to get it started.”

Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.