Just five days after students elected her as ASA’s next vice president, sophomore Audrey Cope walked out to her car on the morning of April 13 and discovered that someone carved “KKK” in the ice covering her car’s back window and scraped an incomplete swastika in the snow blanketing its roof.
“I honestly felt sick,” Cope said.
Though they cannot prove it was a reaction to the election, Cope and her running mate junior Luca Amayo—who students elected as ASA’s next president—believe the symbols were not coincidental.
“Personally, for me, there’s little doubt in my mind that it was a direct result of [the election],” Amayo said.
Cope said she is unsure if the person was attempting to scare Amayo, who is the first international student and person of color to become president of ASA, or trying to link her political beliefs with far-right white supremacist groups.
“It’s either one or the other, and we will never know, but it’s horrifying that one of those extremes exists here,” Cope said.
The person did not physically damage the vehicle, but Cope said she still reported the symbols to Campus Safety. Officers were unable to help her because her vehicle was parked on the north side of Tuve’s parking lot, which is out of view of the nearest security cameras. Instead, Campus Safety allowed her to park in a secure, monitored parking lot.
Amayo and Cope said they believe someone who attends or works at the campus scratched the symbols because only her car was affected. The cars next to her car were fine. They said they believe the person specifically knew which car was hers, and Cope said that initially made her feel unsafe.
Though Cope is unsure exactly when the person carved the symbols, Cope said it must have happened between April 11—when the snow first fell—and April 13.
Dean of Students Mark Blackburn said regardless of the person’s relationship with the university, the administration and faculty will not tolerate hate speech.
Blackburn said it is difficult to prevent anonymous acts of hate speech. He said the administration is implementing more security cameras, but they are not perfect because acts can still occur if a person hides their identity or in areas not under surveillance. If acts do arise, he said the campus can only reach out to those affected.
“The entire administration wants to create an inclusive, welcoming and safe environment for our students, faculty and staff. We can’t have hate symbols being drawn on students’ vehicles. That’s the last straw.”
Amayo said he noticed similar occurrences during the campaign. He said he saw Cope’s face scratched or cut out of campaign posters. Cope said she saw one poster with her face scratched out.
“It’s easier to antagonize and demonize people you disagree with,” Amayo said. “This is an unfortunate extreme consequence of that kind of climate.”
On April 17, President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin sent a campus-wide email. She wrote that individuals on campus have recently faced acts of intolerance and that students, faculty and staff have a responsibility “to confront these negative behaviors and create an environment that is open to all.”
At a community support session on April 29, Blackburn said the campus has received numerous reports of intolerance, racism and hate over the last 36 months, including insensitive verbal comments, disturbing messages found in books from the Mikkelsen Library and racist posters and fliers on bulletin boards.
In one instance, a student tried to give another student $20 so they could call them a racial slur.
Blackburn said the acts over the last 36 months were not isolated. He said he fears that small acts can become normalized and escalate into more dangerous acts.
Blackburn said if students, faculty or staff have experienced, seen or heard discriminatory speech or actions they should file an incident report form, which can be found on the Dean of Students Office’s webpage.