On Sunday evening, everyone at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign received this email saying that classes would be in session on Monday, Jan. 27:
The email was sent by the university chancellor, Phyllis Wise.
Given the weather forecast for Monday, the student body was not thrilled about being denied a day off...
And several responded by tweeting under the hashtag #FuckPhyllis.
While the tweets were mean-spirited to begin with, they escalated into aggression very quickly.
And shortly after that, for some, the attacks took a racist turn.
The attacks continued via a parody account created for Chancellor Wise, which racked up over 1,000 followers in a few minutes.
Some students even created a Change.com petition asking that classes be canceled. By 2 a.m. Monday morning, it had amassed over 7,000 signatures.
Although the insults continued late into the night, there was considerable backlash from Twitter users who had noticed the hashtag and found it to be problematic.
UIUC alumna Suey Park, who has played an active role in past hashtag movements, told BuzzFeed via email:
"I'd expect this from the student body. As you might have seen in the hashtag convo, many stated that they were also Chief fans. The Chief is a racist mascot that was officially banned from the university, yet continues to exist as an unofficial mascot. If you step foot on campus, you will see heavy Chief support still.
There was a hate crime my senior year in which a Sikh law professor was stabbed in the throat on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. The white attacker screamed "this is my country" and stabbed the professor. It showed me that being different can lead to violence, despite what kind of status a person has achieved. It drove me crazy how it seemed such a few of us were affected by the news of the hate crime. It drove me absolutely crazy. And to see those same students tweeting and using Facebook to promote racism during such a sensitive time for me was scarring. Seeing hate (including again tonight) online made my physical spaces feel less safe.
We can't continue turning away from holding students accountable for their behavior in digital spaces. "Safe spaces" are a university aspiration, but may disassociate online behavior from student life, which is concerning in an increasingly digital age... The campus needs to take bias-motivated incidents on the internet more seriously."
Alumna Mikki Kendall, who graduated from UIUC in 2005, added:
"I wouldn't say U of I was racially aware or really sensitive. They had just begun to admit they had a retention problem with people of color, and much of Champaign-Urbana was (and still is I suspect) semi segregated. It wasn't overt, but things like grammar school district lines, location of low income housing, and bus routes made it noticeable to me... There were a lot of micro aggressions on that campus and in that town when I was there. Chancellor Wise is after my time, but I have heard generally good things about her."