Racist notes set off protest at St. Olaf College

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One terribly racist note left for a student at the 3,200-student St. Olaf College is enough to get everyone's attention.

Three in one week might be enough to bring the whole school to a halt. 

The liberal arts college in Northfield, about 40 minutes outside Minneapolis, is roiling after a weekend's worth of student protests, which saw hundreds staging a sit-in in the student commons area starting Saturday night. 

That protest started just hours after one student shared a racist and threatening note she'd found on her car. 

"I am so glad that you are leaving soon," reads the note. "One less nigger that this school has to deal with. You have spoken up too much. You will change nothing. Shut up or I will shut you up."

A frightening message, to be sure, but one the student responded to with humor when she uploaded the photo.

She's making the connection to a cruder handwritten note that targeted a different St. Olaf student the previous weekend. The student had taken his dog out for a late-night walk, and when he returned, found a piece of paper waiting for him. 

That's still not all. Also last week, the Northfield News reports, a third student found a note placed inside her bag that told her to "Go back to Africa."

The student whose note told her she's "spoken up too much" isn't about to stop now. Samantha Wells spoke publicly during the Saturday night occupation of Buntrock Commons, and says the racist targeting has not only "been going on all year," but has been a campus issue at St. Olaf "for decades." 

Says Wells:  "I think the big message is we shouldn’t let this happen again. The administration needs to do something that stops it indefinitely.”

University president David Anderson addressed the controversy in a campus-wide email, which was actually penned prior the most recent string of incidents. Anderson wrote he thinks the racism is the work of "one or a small number" of perpetrators, and that it "may not even be" fellow students behind it. 

"This person," Anderson wrote, "has adopted a strategy similar to the one terrorists use: under the cover of darkness and anonymity engage in acts that frighten, dishearten and frustrate people with a goal of unsettling the community and turning people against one another."

Student Krysta Wetzel was unimpressed by Anderson's suggestion that the notes aren't coming from a student, saying it lets the school off the hook from coming up with "concrete examples of what the administration, the school is going to do to change this community."

In a press release Saturday night, the school -- where not long ago, it was campus conservatives complaining they were being bullied -- said it was working with the Northfield Police Department, and asked for anyone with information about the notes -- these two, or any others -- to contact the school's public safety department at 507-786-3666.


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