It started with a racist threat, written on a stall in a DePauw University men’s bathroom on April 11, according to Indy Star.
Then the N-word, spelled out using rocks, was spotted in a park, the school confirmed in a statement. Another offensive message — this time, one spouting homophobia and anti-Semitism — was found in a different bathroom. And a student was seen sporting blackface and a derogatory sign at a local bar.
Four separate hate-fueled incidents — all in one week, at just one university.
Hate at DePauw University hit a fever pitch in mid-April. And actress Jenna Fischer, of all people, was there to witness the pain, frustrations, and calls for action boil over in real time.
The actress, known for her role as Pam on “The Office,” was on campus in Indiana on April 17 to meet theater students, participate in a Q&A, and sign copies of her book, “The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide.”
But the event took an abrupt turn when demonstrators from the school’s Association of African-American Students interrupted the gathering chanting and carrying a large banner that read, “We are not safe,” the Associated Press reported.
This kind of turmoil isn’t confined to the small, private school in Greencastle, Indiana.
College campuses have always facilitated social debate and, as a result, often can attract hate-filled bigotry. It was at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, after all, where white supremacists chose to gather in protest of the removal of a confederate statue in August 2017.
But evidence suggests hate crimes increased significantly at many colleges and universities in the months following the election that gave us Donald Trump.
“As spaces often populated by the religious and ethnic minority groups Trump pilloried during his bruising campaign, college campuses were natural incubators for conflict,” Dan Bauman wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education in a report published in February. Many of the incidents, he wrote, involved references to the president.
While no direct ties have reportedly been made connecting Trump to the hate on display in Greencastle, DePauw’s recent bigotry problems aren’t all that unique.
But the hateful acts have been eye-opening to Fischer, nonetheless.
In a tweet published the day after the DePauw demonstrations, Fischer opened up about the unsettling events.
“Needless to say, I was shocked and upset to hear what was happening on their campus,” Fischer wrote.
She continued (emphasis added):
“The student protesters spoke about their experiences and about the hate they have been encountering. I could feel the pain, sadness, and fear coming from these students. No student should feel at risk, or have to suffer the kind of bigotry and hate these students have encountered. These students need to be heard and they need change.”
In her statement, Fischer announced she’d be donating the money she received from the university for her appearance to three organizations helping combat racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia and transphobia among young LGBTQ people: the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, and The Trevor Project.
The gesture was well-received.
“What an amazing letter, [Jenna Fischer]. Thank you,” one Twitter user wrote. “I’m a DPU grad and watched the live stream last night. You were wonderful. Thank you again for the words of encouragement that was so well said.”
Mark McCoy — DePauw’s president, who was at the event — thanked the actress for speaking out for the demonstrators. Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League also sent his appreciation for Fischer’s “generosity and … commitment to combating hate and bigotry.” The Trevor Project thanked Fischer “for using this event to inspire hope and support our lifesaving work.”
“My hope is for all people to be respected, accepted, and loved for their individuality and uniqueness,” Fischer wrote. “And, above all, to be safe.”