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WWU student posts bail in racial threats case

Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press

SEATTLE – A Western Washington University student posted $10,000 bail Tuesday evening after he was arrested on campus Monday and accused of making racial threats against black students and others on social media.

Tysen Campbell, 19, has not been charged, but the Whatcom County prosecutor’s office has scheduled an arraignment for Dec. 11.

University officials say the sophomore who was a pole vaulter on the WWU track team has been suspended and banned from campus pending the outcome of legal proceedings and the university’s student conduct process.

Administrators canceled classes Nov. 24, the day before the scheduled Thanksgiving break, after learning about racist remarks on social media that included threats of violence against student body president Belina Seare, who is black.

Most, but not all, students returned to campus Monday.

The Bellingham Herald reported Tuesday that Campbell was detained in connection with a post on social media platform Yik Yak saying “lynch her,” and directed at Seare.

The university asked Yik Yak, which is popular among college students and allows users to post anonymously, to turn over the names of the commenters, who posted pictures of Seare, a gun and references to nooses. University police are continuing to investigate, officials said.

Whatcom County Court Commissioner Martha Gross barred Campbell from coming near Seare as a condition of his release.

The long stream of posts mentioned almost every ethnic group, including blacks, Muslims, Jews and American Indians, blaming them for an effort on campus to debate changing the university’s mascot, a Viking. The threats came days after several student leaders suggested that the mascot is racist.

Most of the online comments contained racist language and profanity, making fun of the mascot debate and the students who proposed it. One post called black students crying babies and another complimented the school for having an “overtly Aryan” mascot.

Campbell’s mother, Lisa Concidine, told the Seattle Times that her son told her his post on Yik Yak was “sarcastic because he was annoyed by all of the uproar.” She said she did not have information on the content of his post.

She described Campbell as respectful and said she was shocked by the news of her son’s arrest.

“He’s never been violent, he’s never racist, he’s a star kid,” Concidine said. “If he was a kid that was always on the edge, I wouldn’t be surprised, but this has taken me by surprise.”

Campbell’s attorney, Robert Butler, said his client does not have a criminal record.

At a campus forum on Monday, college faculty, staff and students met to talk about a wider problem of racism on campus.

Larry Estrada, associate professor in WWU’s Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, opined that fighting racism in higher education will be a long battle because universities were established for the elite and exclude women and minorities.

“Racism is like a cancer,” Estrada said. “There is no quick pill to fix racism.”

Alex Ng, a graduate student in the college’s teaching program, expressed optimism that something can be done to make Western more comfortable for minority students, but he said non-white students and professors can’t be expected to do all the work.

“Going forward, to heal we have to spread that burden,” he said.

University President Bruce Shepard has made bringing a more diverse student population to the university one of his top goals, but he has acknowledged that he has failed in another goal: making the campus of 15,000 students a place where all feel safe and supported.

“On behalf of Western, I apologize to our students, faculty and staff of color. It should not have taken an incident such as this for all of us to recognize and emphatically understand their experience,” Shepard said Monday at the campus forum.

He said racism continues to be a serious problem at Western and vowed to keep working to transform the campus culture.

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