As the University of Chicago reels from a controversy over racist Halloween costumes and cultural sensitivity on campus, new information has come to light, further complicating an already tense relationship between students and the administration.
On Monday, the university said that a supposed Facebook hacking incident related to the controversy was actually a hoax. "The owner of the Facebook account claimed responsibility for the posting," read a statement published Monday on the school's official website.
The university had partnered with federal authorities to investigate a threatening Facebook post, which appeared last week on a student's account and was initially thought to be the work of a hacker. The posting appeared to threaten Vincente Perez -- a student activist instrumental in bringing recent attention to what some call the school's "culture of intolerance" -- and included explicit language and references to rape. "I am personally targeted for fighting for racial justice on campus," Perez wrote on Twitter of the threatening Facebook post soon after it appeared.
Debunking the would-be hacking incident, the university wrote the following on its website: "There are still many facts to be learned. But it became clear that nobody broke into the Facebook account in question, and that in fact the posting was not the anonymous threat against a student that it first appeared to be."
Even before the hoax was exposed, students were skeptical that activists and the administration could successfully tackle the broader campus issues of race and culture. That skepticism remains.
Alex, a third-year film major at the university who did not wish to be identified by her full name, said she believes the Facebook incident hurt the credibility of recent protests held on campus in response to the controversy. But she is hopeful the school will take action, given the many students and alumni of color who have come forward to share experiences of racial intolerance at the school.
“It’s important to listen to marginalized people and at least hear their concerns,” Alex told The Huffington Post. “The university should still be held accountable for all the micro- and macro-aggressions that have transpired on this campus.”
Other students took to social media to express similar thoughts.
— Nissa Wan Ying (@HappyNiss) November 25, 2014
— Emma GZ R (@EmmaGZRoberts) November 25, 2014
Perez, who helped kick off the campuswide debate about tolerance after he confronted a student wearing a racially insensitive Halloween costume and went on to lobby the administration over concerns about on-campus sensitivity, addressed the Facebook hoax in a Monday status update. "Someone felt they had to show something extreme to get people to care," he wrote. "Think about that. This is not a justification. But think about what the weight of apathy can force people to do."
Earlier this month, the efforts of Perez and other student activists led to the creation of a Change.org petition calling for increased cultural diversity and sensitivity on campus. The petition, followed by the Facebook incident, inspired a number of protests, which drew support from both student and faculty groups.
"While some may be inclined to perceive this most recent event as an isolated incident, this is instead the latest iteration of a historical trend of antagonism, symptomatic of a broader culture of intolerance," the Organization of Black Students at the University of Chicago wrote in a Facebook update on Nov. 20, apparently referring to the Facebook incident. "Thus, we find it imperative that the entire campus community gather against these polarizing threats to our safety and unity."
That same day, the university acknowledged the Facebook incident was “part of a larger pattern” the school needed to address.
Many students were not impressed by the school’s delayed response to students’ concerns, given that several other racial incidents have also taken place on the campus in recent years.
“It shouldn’t be the case where we have to talk about these cases of extreme racism and bigotry … for the university to step up,” fourth-year student Jaime Sanchez, who created the Change.org petition, told HuffPost.
Neither Perez nor the university responded to requests for further comment.