ATLANTA – One of Georgia's largest universities is investigating a series of racist social media posts that prompted fears of racial violence.
It apparently started last week with a message shared in the GroupMe app showing a black student in class at Kennesaw State University with the caption "need to call the klan to solve this issue." Others then shared it on Twitter, demanding that the university take action to protect them.
A friend alerted Kennesaw State senior Elijah John to the Ku Klux Klan reference on a photo of him, which had been posted by a fellow student in his information systems class, he said.
"My first reaction was like, what the heck is this, who would do something like this and why?" John, 22, recalled in an interview Wednesday. "This was completely random."
Other students vented online for days as rumors spread, including one on Tuesday that racists were coming to the campus to shoot black students.
Kennesaw State spokeswoman Tammy DeMel reiterated that campus police have found "no credible threats" to the campus. She pointed to a university statement that campus police are investigating and have increased patrols.
John said no one from the police department had contacted him as of Wednesday afternoon, though other university employees have.
He said he alerted his professor shortly after seeing the photo, and administrators in the school's Office of Institutional Equity have since been in contact with him. That office works to make sure Kennesaw State complies with laws and policies regarding discrimination, according to the school's website. John said he was told that the student had voluntarily switched classes. That's not enough, he said.
"I want him to be expelled or suspended, at a minimum," John said.
Minorities now represent about 45 percent of the 35,000-student population at KSU, whose main campus is in a northwest suburb of Atlanta.
"As shocking as they seem, they're not isolated incidents," said Carlynn Sharpe-Ehui, a graduate student who said she's seen other instances of hate speech on the campus in recent years.
"They're evidence of the very toxic, polarizing climate that has been festering," she said.
Sharpe-Ehui helped create KSUnited, which has pushed for several changes including new university policies dealing with hate speech.
In 2015, the group believed it had a commitment from university leaders to create an anti-racist education center that would open by 2018. But that center still doesn't exist, she said.