The University of Missouri Police Department (MUPD) is investigating reports that the Black Culture Center sign was vandalized early Thursday morning, the police said in a statement.
The Legion of Black Collegians (LBC), an advocacy group at the university, tweeted a photo early Thursday showing that the "Black" in "Black Culture Center" was covered up with what appeared to be spray paint.
"We're not afraid. You clearly are," the LBC, which describes itself as the only black student government in the U.S., tweeted.
University police said that an unknown suspect spray-painted over the portion of the center's sign at approximately 12:48 a.m. Thursday and that investigators are reviewing video surveillance from the area.
"Safety and security of our students is our top priority, and we are investigating all crimes as they are reported to us," MUPD Chief Doug Schwandt said. "We are receiving assistance from the Missouri State Highway Patrol and will continue to have an increased security presence on campus for the foreseeable future."
The Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center (GOBCC), was established as a haven for the university's black students in 1972.
The incident comes as the university has been thrust in the national spotlight after students engaged in a weeks-long protest against officials' handling of alleged racism on campus that culminated in the resignation of University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin and University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe. The tipping point came when the football team refused to play until Wolfe resigned.
A student, Taylor Henderson, told BuzzFeed News that she witnessed two men in a truck spray-paint the sign.
Henderson said she was walking across campus with her boyfriend after 1 a.m. when she saw a light gray truck pull up to the Black Culture Center.
Two men in hooded sweatshirts — one of whom she identified as white — jumped out of the truck. After approaching the sign, they were gone within seconds, the 17-year-old freshman said.
When Henderson walked toward the center, she noticed the word "Black" on the sign had been covered with paint.
"It was very weird because it was so quiet out," Henderson said. "The day before, police were everywhere. But there wasn't any there" near the center.
She added that despite knowing of other reported racist incidents, "you don't expect to see it with your own eyes."
"It's weird people felt comfortable enough to walk up to the center," she said. "They only had on a hood — it's not like they were wearing masks."
A freshman, Issac Jahns, told the campus newspaper, The Maneater, that he overheard a male voice yelling, "Black motherfuckers, you're not welcome here," while he was walking near the GOBCC late Wednesday night. He indicated that it could have been related to the vandalism.
"I looked back, and there was a girl (by the GOBCC) with a red jacket on and she booked it," Jahns said. "She was sprinting. So we booked it too, went back (to Hatch) and I tried calling MUPD twice … We were like, 'It's gotta be the same guy. It has to be.'"
He said that the insult was directed to the girl who was black.
The sign was cleaned Thursday morning, students reported.
The Black Culture Center also reportedly received a threatening call on Tuesday, an MUPD spokesperson told The Maneater.
The spokesperson said that a person at the center, who answered a call at 11 a.m. during the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus meeting, perceived it as a threat. Police were investigating the incident, The Maneater reported.
The same day, posts made on the anonymous messaging app Yik Yak warned students not to come to the campus and threatened that black people would be shot. Two Missouri college students were arrested on Wednesday in relation to the threats.
Asked if she felt safe on campus, Henderson said "no."
"But I don't want to say it in a way that people think we're exaggerating things or something....I just think the campus is lacking empathy. It's just frustrating. Who could be against fighting something bad. What bad could come out of fighting racism?"
This is not the first time the Black Culture Center has been the target of racially-motivated acts.
In December 2014, an anonymous threat to the center was posted on Yik Yak, according to a report by the Columbian Missourian.
"Let's burn down the black culture center & give them a taste of their own medicine," the Yak read.
In 2010, two white male students were arrested for dropping cotton balls in front of the GOBCC. The cotton balls were strewn across the lawn during the Black History Month at the university as a racist reminder of slavery in the South.
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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