It was early Thursday morning when I got a news tip about a hateful note written on a whiteboard saying, “Bye Bye Latinos Hasta La Vista.” Looking through Facebook posts of the image, I sourced the time and location of the message to Tony Crider’s 8 a.m. "Global Experience" course in Kivette Hall, Room 100.
The message had been erased on the whiteboard, but the rest of the whiteboard matched the image I had seen on Facebook. After getting permission to use the photo, I tweeted it out. Three hours later, it had hundreds of retweets and was sending my phone an endless stream of notifications.
The immediate assumption people made was that the author of the note was a supporter of President-elect Donald Trump. Others went after Elon University, accusing the campus of fostering a racially-biased environment.
This could not have been further from the truth.
I had multiple off-the-record sources tell me a Latino student had done it as a joke, but the student did not agree to an interview and I could not confirm the person’s identity.
I filed the story for ENN and it took off like a rocket ship. As is common practice, the story would continue updating as more information emerged. No university official would tell me if the person was Latino or had done it as a joke. About an hour after the article was published online, President Leo Lambert issued a statement condemning the act, calling it “reprehensible.”
The student stepped forward and is now living behind closed curtains, and perhaps rightfully so. Knowing who wrote the note could fuel greater harassment.
Still, the general public deserved to know the motivations surrounding the incident.
Some people I spoke with on Thursday and Friday said they didn’t know the individual or his or her motives. Others said the university was legally obligated not to release the person’s personal information. Despite my best efforts to get the information out to the public about the source of the note, I was unable to do so.
While all this was going on, unnecessary hate and vitriol about Elon was quickly spreading
With accusations of Elon being a non-inclusive campus, the university had a compelling reason to provide information about the student's identity. By doing so, though, it went against previous statements it made to ENN and the Elon community. Ultimately, the truth came out about the person’s background and motives.
One person told me the identity and motives are irrelevant, but I would argue that hate was directed at undeserving people. Quick rushes to judgment were made, and those judgments should not be forgotten.
It is true that positive notes were scattered throughout campus the following morning. Still, hate trumped love at Elon University, and that is — as one person would say — “Sad!”
For all the talk I hear of creating a more inclusive community and a more unified nation, this incident is a helpful reminder that there is a lot of progress that needs to be made.
One million impressions later, social media brought out the worst in people.
Let me be clear: Elon is not a perfect place. It does lack diversity, but the university is working to address the concerns people have about representation. I urge people not to paint our institution with a broad brush because of one note a Latino student wrote as a joke.
The note does not represent Elon, and there was no intent to cause harm. I’m sure the person feels bad enough right now. The takeaway from this story is not the note itself but the disappointing rush to judgment and hateful comments directed toward Elon, Trump supporters and the Latino community.