UNION, N.J. — Federal and state investigators have been called in, and many students stayed home from class on Wednesday after somebody tweeted deadly threats toward African American students at Kean University.
But the involvement of law enforcement did not satisfy a group of New Jersey ministers, who called for the resignation of the university's president.
The threatening words were posted in a series of Twitter messages that started appearing Tuesday night when a group of Kean University student protesters held an all night vigil intended to draw attention to issues of racial inequality at college campuses nationwide.
The tweets caught the attention of the university administration, as well as law enforcement, and definitely raised concerns among students, whether they were demonstrating or not.
"It definitely is a death threat," Tanaera Green, a student activist, said. She was among the leaders of the peaceful demonstration, which apparently sparked the threats.
"I don't like reading stuff like that, personally," student Alicia Mejia said, who wasn't involved at all in the Kean demonstrations. "Especially since Kean is very welcoming," Mejia continued. "We're a very diverse community."
That diverse community was noticeably thinner in number on Wednesday in the wake of the tweets.
"Half the people in my class didn't show up to class," said psychology major Kyle Allen, "which I think is a natural reaction. I mean, these threats are serious."
In total, the tweet sender, whose handle is keanuagainstblk, sent 10 tweets, including:
- I will shoot every black woman and male I see at Kean University;
- KU Police, I will kill all the blacks tonight, tomorrow and any other day if they go to Kean University;
- Kean University there's a bomb on your campus
Charles Curtis III, who was among the 10 demonstrators who slept overnight under the university clock tower, had a stirring response to the threats.
"I'm going to look you in the eyes when you do that," he said. "You're not going to see my back when you shoot me. We've got to let these people [know] we're not fearful."
He was among a group of about 100 Kean students who are holding a three day, round-the-clock vigil in support of demonstrations at other U.S. colleges against poor treatment of blacks and other minorities on campus.
A key part of the overnight vigil was the sleeping outdoors by the group of 10 students. Around 10:00 p.m. Tuesday, when the overnight phase of their demonstration began, the harmful tweets started coming in. By 10:30, Twitter had shut off keanuagainstblk, but the damage had been done.
Armed campus police regularly patrol at Kean, but on Wednesday, they were a visibly strong presence at the clock tower, where the vigil demonstration is underway.
Kean University police are also part of the hunt for the person or people behind the tweets, but that search, while inconclusive for now, has major partners involved.
"That investigation involves law enforcement from the federal level, state and local municipalities," said university spokesperson Margaret McCorry. "The campus is safe, and we're open today and we're operating fairly normally."
The students who bothered to come to class on Wednesday told PIX11 News that they have faith that campus will continue to fully operate.
However, as student Jacob Robinson said, "The end of the semester is going to be shaky if no one gets caught."
Also on Wednesday, a coalition of African American ministers from New Jersey called for the resignation of Kean University president Dawood Farahi.
The group, the Newark/North Jersey Committee of Black Churchmen, noted in statements Wednesday afternoon that the university was the subject of an investigation by the NAACP over the recent dismissal of a group of female African American faculty members.
The ministers' coalition said that by Kean telling students to proceed normally in the wake of the threatening tweets, it was being insensitive to the dangers students of color faced.
No students who spoke with PIX11 News held this view. In fact, one student pointed out, a girlfriend of hers was in a class on Wednesday in which "she was the only white student" who'd bothered to brave any threats and go to class.
In response to the ministers' demands, Kean University Board of Trustees Chair issued a statement that read, in part, "I am offended that this group would issue such an inflammatory statement without knowing anything about Dr. Farahi or Kean University.
"This coalition lacks scrutiny. I don’t know them or who they represent, and no one listed as a member has ever approached me to find out a single thing about Kean. I am a proud member of the Tri-City NAACP, an active member of First Baptist Church of Vauxhall and a former Branch Chief for the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, who conducted compliance reviews and investigations related to discrimination.
"I am surprised that a such a group would take this action without benefit of dialogue with Dr. Farahi or any of Kean’s board members. It makes me question the group’s motivation."