University of Chicago students who helped start a petition demanding the school address a “culture of racial intolerance” became the targets of a racially-charged threat Tuesday that is now being investigated by federal authorities.
“I was very literally scared to leave my house,” said University of Chicago junior Vincente Perez.
Perez became a victim of the very violence he was trying to prevent when a friend’s Facebook page was hacked and someone posted an explicit threat.
The threat, which the university calls a “hateful and abhorrent attack,” read in part, “Vincente you are next. None of your profiles are safe. This is the beginning of our rape season.”
The post also included profanities and other racial slurs.
Perez believes the threat stems from Halloween night, when he saw students dressed as Mexican stereotypes. Photos were later uploaded to Facebook with people in the costumes in offenses poses, he said.
“The pictures not only involved the individuals in the costumes but also kind of made light of police brutality,” Perez said.
After the incident, a group of students, including Perez, met with the university and started a student and faculty petition calling for training on racial insensitivity and a more diverse faculty.
"I've been here four years and this has happened consistently," said student Jaime Sanchez, Jr., who is among the students calling for action after incidents of racial intolerance.
The university said in a statement the threat is “unacceptable and violates our core values” and noted that an investigation is underway with federal law enforcement agencies and third-party website providers.
“Anonymous and personal attacks that are hateful, threatening, and target people’s identity do not constitute discourse and deserve our strongest condemnation,” the statement read. “We will pursue criminal prosecution, and if the individual is a member of our community we will pursue disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion or termination of employment. Getting answers to these questions may be difficult, but regardless of the outcome we must engage in active discussion about the impact of these attacks on our campus.”
The school acknowledged the latest incident is just one in a series of others that have left students feeling “targeted, harassed, or threatened on the basis of their identity.”
“Harassment and threats on the basis of identity are completely antithetical to the values of the University and will not be tolerated,” the school. “They are harmful and hurtful both to individuals and to the fabric of our community.”
Perez said the email is a good start, but it "isn't enough."
"We have to see action," he said.