EDUCATION

Students protest racism at liberal arts college in Minnesota

Hundreds of students boycotted classes at St. Olaf College in southern Minnesota on Monday, instead packing an administration building to protest a rash of racist and threatening messages left around campus at the private, Lutheran liberal arts college.

One black student, Samantha Wells, found an anonymous note on her car windshield Saturday calling her a racial slur.

"I am so glad you are leaving soon," the note read. "... You have spoken up too much. You will change nothing. Shut up or I will shut you up."

President David R. Anderson said in an April 21 email to students that there had been several similar racist acts on campus since last fall and that the college administration is working with police to determine who is behind them. There have been no reports of physical attacks at the college in Northfield, which is about 45 miles (70 kilometers) south of Minneapolis.

St. Olaf has about 3,000 students, and its student body is 74 percent white, 6 percent Asian, 6 percent Hispanic and 2 percent black, the school's website says.

Speakers at a rally in the atrium at Tomson Hall on Monday morning demanded that St. Olaf adopt a policy of zero tolerance for racism. Some protest leaders interrupted a meeting led by Anderson, reading aloud an 11-page list of demands.

"Our mission is to hold the administration and students of St. Olaf College accountable for the institutionalized racism that is embedded within the structures of this campus", the document said. "We aim that St. Olaf College will recognize that these racially charged reported and unreported hate crimes are not driven by individual incidents or students, but an ideology that is continuously supported by the administration's lack of action and the student body's harmful attitudes."

After the boycott of classes was announced, the St. Olaf administration said in a statement that classes were cancelled for the day so that students, faculty and staff could discuss racism and diversity on campus. The statement said other reported racist acts included written racial epithets and a message targeting another student, and that officials consider it "deeply troubling" that the messages are directed at specific individuals.

"Someone, somewhere knows who is perpetrating these acts of racism," the statement said, urging anyone with information to come forward.