The Viking Mascot Incident

Timeline of Events

The purpose of the following timeline is to provide a rolling list of events and claims related to the WWU Viking mascot controversy and associated threats against students of color. I'm trying to keep this section as NPOV as possible, so please help me out with that: feel free to ping me (at) stephenmeansme (dot) com with additional details or clarifications if you know them. Screenshots are also helpful.

That said, I do want to label inconsistent or missing information (that is, information available to me at the time), so if that seems like an opinion, it's hopefully more of a snapshot of my current knowledge base. Again, additions/clarifications/corrections can be sent to me (at) stephenmeansme (dot) com.

This page will be updated as new events come to light.

See also the timelines compiled by Reddit user entheox and the Bellingham Racial Justice Coalition.

15 July 2015 (circa)

  • WWU Communications Studies Department chair, Dr. Michael Karlberg, writes letter to WWU Associated Students President Belina Seare and Vice President for Diversity Abby Ramos about the WWU mascot a stylized Viking warrior, and problematic implications thereof.

07 October 2015

  • WWU AS Board meeting. [pdf]
    •  Vice President for Diversity Abby Ramos mentions the mascot-change issue.
      • "[S]he spoke with someone about the mascot. They are having a forum to discuss it, to see what they want to see as the Viking mascot. She will be working with [VP for Activities, Israel] RĂ­os to see what they can do about the mascot."

14 October 2015 (circa)

  • Letter sent to President Bruce Shepard re: changing the school mascot.
      • (04 November) AS Board meeting minutes indicate the letter was written by a student in Karlberg's class: "That student sent a letter to Bruce Shepard"
      • (19 November) Western Front article implies letter was written by Karlberg himself: "The letter was also sent to President Bruce Shepard, but neither responded to the email, Karlberg said."
      • Possibly two letters were sent

04 November 2015 --  Wed.

  • WWU AS Board meeting. [pdf]
    • Vice President for Diversity Abby Ramos mentions the mascot-change issue.
      • "About three weeks ago she met with a student who was doing a project for a class. The professor was looking at changing the mascot and they talked about the mascot. That student sent a letter to Bruce Shepard to ask about the mascot but never got a reply. They are creating a survey that will be sent out to all students so they can respond to it. It's a white student she was talking to, so she explained information about minority and marginalized identities on campus and to be sensitive in doing his research."

19 November 2015 -- Thu.

  • Western Front publishes article:  "Vikings no more? Survey to be created to question Western mascot" [link]
    • "The idea of changing the mascot was brought up at an Associated Students Board meeting earlier this month. Abby Ramos, the AS Vice President for Diversity, said that this conversation started in the summer to discuss changing the mascot to be a more inclusive figure."
    • Quotes
      • VP-Diversity Abby Ramos: "[The mascot] doesn’t portray students of color on this campus and it can be very exclusive to students who are potentially looking at coming to Western."
      • Communications chair Karlberg: "I think this mascot also reflects a sort of hyper masculine, hyper violent sort of image which is doubly problematic. I think we really ought to reconsider."

20 November 2015 -- Fri.

  • KIRO7 News publishes article: "Report: Western Washington University considering mascot change" [link]
  • KIRO7 publishes a reader poll on Facebook to accompany the article [link]
    • "There's talk about changing the Western Washington University Viking mascot to something less "hyper violent." >>
      Do you think:
      A) It may be good, but PC concerns are going too far
      B) A change is needed
      C) This is a joke
      D) Let the students decide
      E) (Enter your own answer)"

21 November 2015 -- Sat.

  • (~01:00pm) Threads appear on the /pol/ board at 4chan, including pictures of Belina Seare and comments about lynching [screenshot]
    • "[photo of Seare] Here's one of the niggers who started this whole thing"
    • "[...] these fucking losers need to be strung up to trees and killed."
    • The most inflammatory thread (including the above quotes) has since been deleted from 4chan (as of 30 November)
  • Associated Students of WWU publishes a post critical of the KIRO7 poll; requests that KIRO7 remove the poll to protect student safety
We would like to address a Facebook post made by KIRO 7 News that centered on the student-run effort to create a discussion about changing Western's school mascot [...]

Not only do some of these poll options trivialize this important effort, but they also discourage students, or anyone, from trying to speak out and make positive changes.

More importantly, this poll opened the door to (and essentially) encouraged extremely hateful comments which caused the student organizers of this effort to feel unsafe.

This is unacceptable. KIRO 7 has been notified and we've asked them to take down this post.
      • The Associated Students post has since been removed (as of the evening of 22 November)
    • Anonymous poster on Yik Yak: "White brotherhood meeting tonight in Red Square [on WWU's campus]"
      • Screenshots uploaded to Facebook on 21 November; posts may have been made earlier

    22 November 2015 -- Sun.

    • (~05:30pm) WWU AS President Belina Seare tweets about the mascot controversy [1][2][3]
      • The third tweet ("[...] Plz be critical [...]") was deleted and re-submitted with some changed wording
      • All tweets had been re-tweeted by the WWU Associated Students official twitter account, but the re-tweets were subsequently revoked.
    • (~10:00pm) [per open letter] Eric Alexander, Sierra [?] and Hannah Brock discover posts on Yik Yak about lynching

        23 November 2015 -- Mon.

        • (Between 10:30pm 22 Nov and 01:30am 23 Nov) Associated Students of WWU deletes Facebook post critical of KIRO7's reader poll
        • AS VP-Diversity Abby Ramos sets personal Twitter account to private, later deletes it entirely
        • (~12:00am) AS Communications Director Kelly Mason sets personal Twitter account to private; [per open letter] AS President Belina Seare is made aware of the "Lynch her" Yik Yak post.
        • (05:00pm) President Bruce Shepard convenes a "threat assessment team" to discuss a response to the malicious social media posts
          • Belina and Abby are asked for statements
        • (~10:00pm) President Bruce Shepard publishes blog post re: mascot-change issue [link]
          • Acknowledges concerns about the mascot raised by students
            • "To the extent that it may be true that many if not most groups have histories that, however positive they may otherwise be, are blemished by records of violence and conquest, then it might follow that we should not have a mascot that has any human embodiment."
          •  Notes the relative lack of interest in a mascot change
            • "How widely felt is the need to make a change? After all, one letter in eight years? Almost without exception, the recent messages I have seen are on the other side, expressing worry that we might change the mascot."
        • (~10:30pm) [per open letter] Seare and Ramos meet with WWU Campus Police; asked for statements to obtain a warrant; campus police refuse student requests for a police detail, online-comment monitoring, and a WWU Alert broadcast. 

        24 November 2015 -- Tue.

        • (~02:00am per open letter) Students discover Yik Yak comment including a gun photo
          • On inspection the comment appeared not to be related to the mascot controversy, but nevertheless impacted the students' sense of safety
          • In particular, recent shooting events in Minneapolis and Umpqua Community College were preceded by anonymous posts on social media featuring weapons
        • (~2:15am per open letter, Shepard's update) Seare calls President Bruce Shepard and suggest campus closure (not just class cancellation)
        • (~2:45am per Shepard's update) President Shepard convenes a threat assessment meeting within University Police facilities
          • "There were derogatory emails" per Shepard's update
          • Unclear whether Seare and Ramos were physically present at the meeting, or even in communication with the team remotely 
        • Western Washington University cancels classes in response to racial threats
          • Seattle Times article [link]
          • Western Front article [link]
        • (~06:00am) President Bruce Shepard releases statement on class cancellation [link
          • Expresses sympathy for students of color
            • "We have welcomed the guidance of our students of color as to how else we might be supportive.  We have mobilized to offer support and to provide protection to those specifically targeted by the hate speech.  With disturbing social media content continuing through early this morning, students of color have advised me of their very genuine, entirely understandable, and heightened fear of being on campus."
          • Defends class cancellation
            • "[T]he pause is necessary so that we may learn more as we advance the law enforcement investigation and, together, plan responses that will make us stronger."
        • (~07:00am, per open letter) Seare and Ramos learn of the cancellation letter; they believe Shepard has broken an agreement to work with them on the letter before publishing it 
        • [per open letter] Chief of Campus Police contacts Seare and Ramos; the students decide not to respond, later citing lack of trust in the police
        • (~08:30am) WWU Peninsulas Twitter account publishes tweets in solidarity with making WWU a "positive community" [link]
          • (~02:00pm) White nationalist entity "NPLCenter" replies, accusing WWU of supporting "white genocide"
            • @WWUPeninsulas @PresBruce Mass Immigration + FORCED assimilation is #WhiteGenocide according to LAW #WWU
        • (~06:00pm) [per open letter] Seare and Ramos meet with lawyers and community organizers. Campus Police offer to provide them with a hotel but not "personal security"; the students refuse the offer.

        25 November 2015 -- Wed.

        • AS President Seare and AS VP-Diversity Ramos hold press conference at the downtown Whatcom Peace and Justice Center, supported by local advocacy groups
          • Transcript of Seare's press release [link]
            • Excerpt: "Up until this point, I have been refused appropriate security and due to the negligence of campus police, I know my safety is not a priority."
          • Bellingham Herald article, with embedded YouTube video of press conference [link]
            • Racial Justice Coalition rep: [S]aid the students had asked for round-the-clock security and people to protect them and were told, in part, that “it’s too costly.”
          • Western Front article [link]
            • Whatcom Civil Rights Project rep: Other than the cancellation, no action has been taken by the university, despite students’ attempts to talk to administration
        • White-nationalist entity "NPLCenter" sends email to WWU faculty about "white genocide."
          • NPLCenter Twitter claims "the following was emailed to Western Washington University Faculty" [link] including a Pastebin URL
            • "Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white", etc.

        27 November 2015 -- Fri.

        • President Bruce Shepard writes an update for Western Today [link]
          • Shares certain of the malicious posts from Yik Yak
            • "The post of greatest concern to me was reported to be, “Let's lynch her” with the context, as reported to us, making clear that the “her” was AS President Belina Seare."
            • "The actual wording of the quickly disappearing post, our informal discussion with YikYak tells us,was “Lynch her” rather than “Let's lynch her.”"
          • Additional Yik Yak posts
              • “In protest, we should hang a bunch of nooses from trees like Viking used to kill Abbey monks.”
              • Someone responds with “Absolutely not.” 
              • Then another post or comment is made that says, “Yeah, and we can all dress up in white cloaks and we can have black people play the monks!”
            • Notes the possible rules and statutes involved
              • "Do understand: campus codes of conduct are involved as well as possible criminal considerations.  Different expectations and rules of evidence apply."
            • References a "vile" email sent to WWU faculty in response to the cancellation of classes
              • "After my decision was announced to cancel classes, about 270 faculty and staff received a vile email the next morning.  It was of the “white genocide,” “white supremacist” genre that those of us in the forefront of these issues routinely receive."
              • Apparently this was the same email as linked to by "NPLCenter"

          30 November 2015 -- Mon.

          • Western Washington University holds town hall meeting [link]
            • Recorded video stream [link]
            • President Bruce Shepard's prepared remarks [link]
            • Western Front article [link]
          • Latino Advocacy, students publish open letter about recent events [link]
            • Claims the campus climate at WWU "has allowed for acts of violence."
            • Claims KIRO7's article [link] "misrepresented the origins and nature of the mascot discussion."
              • KIRO7: "Some students and a professor at Western Washington University are discussing changing the school’s Viking mascot because some see it as too aggressive, according to a report."
              • KIRO7's report links to the Western Front article from 19 November
            • Claims the campus police refused student requests for safety precautions and additional protection
          • (~06:00pm) WWU Campus Police make arrest
            • Suspect is 19 year old WWU student, white, male 
            • Western Front article [link]
              • ASSUMPTION Claims that suspect was arrested in connection with the "Lynch her" post on Yik Yak
              • Confirmed as of 1 November
            • Bellingham Herald article [link]
            • Seattle Times article [link
              • [The suspect's mother] said in a phone interview that her son told her he made a post that was “sarcastic because he was annoyed by all of the uproar,” but then he deleted it right away.
            • Arrested on suspicion of malicious harassment, a felony offense per state law [link]
              • RCW 9A.36.080 "A person is guilty of felony malicious harassment if he/she maliciously and intentionally commits one of the following acts because of his/her perception of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation*, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap.
                a. Causes physical injury to the victim or another person;
                b. Causes physical damage to or destruction of the property of the victim or another person; or
                c. Threatens a specific person or group and places that person or group in reasonable fear of harm to person or property. The fear must be a fear that a reasonable person (in the identity groups) would have under the same circumstances. Words alone do not constitute malicious harassment unless the context or circumstances surrounding the words indicate the words are a threat."

          01 December 2015 -- Tue.

          • The suspect, Tysen Campbell, is formally charged with malicious harassment under Washington State law, a class C felony; bail is set at $10,000. [link]
            • Campbell is ordered not to contact or approach AS President Belina Seare
              • Campbell's attorney claims that his client is unaware of that individual
            • Campbell was charged in connection to a post that briefly appeared on the WWU Yik Yak that read "Lynch her," presumably referring to Belina Seare
              • Campbell's friends and family insist that his message was made out of sarcasm [link]

          02 December 2015 -- Wed.

          • Chronicle of Higher Education article: "How a President Is Fighting Online Harassment of Minority Students"  [link]

          03 December 2015 -- Thu.

          08 December 2015 -- Tue.

          • President Bruce Shepard writes an update for Western Today [link]
            • Police investigations into social media posts are ongoing
            • Stipulates the lack of physical violence, recognizes the existence of "macro and micro aggressions" against students and employees of color
              • "While no physical attacks have occurred, it is clear the same cannot be said about various forms of macro and micro aggressions, as our students and employees of color regularly experience them."
            • Mentions ongoing cultural competency workshops [link]

          10 December 2015 -- Thu.

          • Tysen Campbell formally charged with felony malicious harassment [link]

          11 December 2015 -- Fri.

          • Tysen Campbell appears in court, charged with felony malicious harassment [link]
            • Campbell pleads "not guilty."
            • AS President Belina Seare attends the hearing

          Post Series: "Mascot Ragnarok"

          Accurate depiction of events
           The purpose of this series of posts is to give my opinions (with the appropriate blanket disclaimer; see sidebar) on various time-slices of the incident. This is partially because the events surrounding the Viking mascot controversy—and subsequent backlash and unconscionable behavior by some people on social media who thought it was funny or useful to post racial threats—touch on larger topics that I had been exploring previously. Moreover, in those prior explorations I held (and continue to hold!) opinions that aren't quite in line with this particular event narrative.

          Put more succinctly: I don't like how the Associated Students of Western Washington University portrays itself.

          So I have a bit of a conundrum. I don't want to make like the AS did nothing "locally" wrong (i.e., from the perspective of those earlier complaints) but neither do I want to seem like I sympathize with Yik Yak randos and reactionary babblers butthurt about "SJWs gone wild" at WWU. From the beginning, even when I independently coined the term "social justice crusaders," my objections, no matter how strenuous, have been centered in the sense one has when one perceives demonstrated behavior and stated goals to be at cross-purposes.

          Put more succinctly: I notice that I am confused as to how certain tactics are supposed to accomplish certain (often laudable) goals. I also notice that certain people brook absolutely no discussion of such criticism. This, in my opinion, is stupid.

          Part 1 -- Representation without representation

          Read the post

          Covers the events up to and including 22 November, centered around the Associated Students of Western Washington University, the mascot change proposal, and the initial media coverage and social-media-based controversy. Does not include discussion of 4chan, Yik Yak, and personal threats, as these were not known at the time (and have not yet been linked to any activity that is discussed in the post).

          From the view on the weekend of 20–22 November, it seemed that the Associated Students of WWU were handling things extremely poorly. Then came the racist threats and inflammatory messages on anonymous social media, which made everything so much worse; check the next post for coverage of that.

          Part 2 -- Is this memes?

          Read the post

          Discusses the threats on social media that led to the University cancelling classes for 24 November. Also includes a discussion on the arrest of a WWU student made in connection to the threats, on 30 November. And let's not forget the charming individuals who make it all possible: Keyboard warriors against "white genocide," those white nationalist manly men who all but fellate hand-sculpted statues of Hitler and Robert E. Lee.

          The main question is: what is a reasonable response, when it's so easy for racists, neo-Nazis, and plain idiots to make threats (idle or otherwise) on anonymous social media, and yet—because of actual acts of terrorism that have been carried out!—the recipients of such messages need to treat every one as serious?

          Part 3 -- This is why

          Read the post

          Discusses the events following the class cancellation, including reports and allegations about previous events that came out after 24 November.

          Now that we've seen why Western Washington University decided (and was justified, in my view) to cancel classes for Tuesday, 24 November 2015, in response to racist and threatening comments on the anonymous social media shithole application Yik Yak, let's look at the reaction from the students and the community. Was their response justified?

          I don't think so.

          Part 4 -- Making an example

          Forthcoming; will address the soundness of using this incident as an argument for or against any future policy, including the mascot change itself.