Racist messages attack KS college president, minority students

Published: Sep. 17, 2016 at 9:27 PM CDT
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A white supremacist group chalks racist messages on the sidewalks of Bethany College. One of the messages reads, "Make Lindsborg white again." There's also several drawn outlines of bodies.

Bethany College students found the offensive words on their sidewalks on September 3rd, at about 11pm.

Now the college's president, Will Jones, is firing back on Facebook, calling the act "disgusting" and condemning the people behind it.

"I was stunned, disgusted, disturbed, angry that someone would target our campus," Jones said.

The group chalked about a dozen racist messages on the sidewalks that cut through the heart of campus. Days later, the person claiming responsibility called President Jones - that's when he found out the messages were targeted at his family.

"He identified himself by name. And shared with me this hateful incident happened because of the racial makeup of my family," he said.

Jones is a father of six, and two of his kids are adopted and bi-racial.

"As a dad, it's very troubling and disgusting someone would write an outline of a dead body on concrete along with 'rest in peace my friend', 'make Lindsborg white again,' and call me and tell me that was directed at my family. If that's not a crime, I really don't know what a crime is," Jones said.

The caller also cited Bethany's diverse campus and some recent news as part of his motive.

"I think it could be I washed the feet of an African American student at the end of my remarks opening the college this year, as a public statement of my commitment to students success," Jones said.

Jones doesn't want to share who's behind the act but says the group started up earlier this year.

"That's what they want. They want us to share the name of the organization," he said. "It's a fairly new hateful organization that is white supremacist."

"It's troubling people would think it's okay to be racist and publicly proclaim their horrible and despicable ideas," he said.

Jones says he's seen an outpouring of support since his post on social media Friday, and hopes something positive will come out of the negative.

"As a parent, I'm writing this to you. Please challenge racism wherever you encounter it," Jones read from his post.

"My hope in sharing my message is that folks would take time to think about how other people are treated. And to ensure that all of us treat others with respect and kindness," he said.

Jones says the school has increased security on campus, and is working closely with Lindsborg Police to prosecute the person behind the act.

Bethany College is a private, liberal arts college with 615 students. Thirty-five percent of them are minority students.

Eyewitness News does know which organization is claiming responsibility, as well as the name of the caller. But we are also choosing to not give the group or the individual a platform. Jones says the caller is a man in his early 20's and that police are aware of his identity. According to Jones 3-to-5 people are behind the incident. None of them are students at Bethany College.

The group also chalked "Trump" and "the wall," along with other politically-charged messages.

President Jones' full Facebook post on the "Lindsborg Now" page:

"What do you do when a white supremacist writes racist and hateful messages directed at your children and at the students you work to serve? Seriously, what should a person do who desires to follow Christ? What should a college and community do to respond to such hate? These are questions I've been wrestling with as a professional and parent for the past two weeks.

Two weekends ago, three to five people claiming to be associated with a hateful organization wrote racially offensive messages with chalk on a few of the Bethany College campus sidewalks. These messages were disgusting and are completely contrary to our core values and intellectual identity. The messages included a chalk outline of a dead body with "rest in peace my friend" and "make Lindsborg white again."

A few days after the incident a man who is not a student at Bethany and does not even live in Lindsborg (I'm not going to share his name or hateful organization), called my office at the college and stated that he and four other people committed this despicable act. He refused to disclose who his companions were, and no others have admitted to participating. He stated that the chalk messages were written in response to the make-up of my family (I have two adopted, biracial children), to some of the things that have been written and posted online and in the press about my work at the college, and in response to the students of color that Bethany College is recruiting.

That's right. Think about it. A man called my office to tell me that messages like the outline of a dead body and "make Lindsborg white again" were directed at my family--the love of my life and my sweet children, ages seven to 14 years old. Let it sink into your mind and heart. Dead body outline. Children. Hate. As a parent, how would you feel?

And, the messages were directed at college students who are working to better their lives by getting an education. Bethany students help to produce tens of millions of dollars of economic impact in our community. Students who provide thousands of hours of service in our community, work as student teachers, provide fine arts performances, and they gift us the joy of cheering them on through athletic competition. Our graduates make the world a better place to live. Ponder the messages. Imagine you are the parent of one of our students, working a double shift to help pay for your daughter's education, and you hear about this. If you were the parent of one of our students of color, what would you think?

This week, this man called again. This time to relish in his "activism," to threaten to instigate the forces of his “movement” to close our college, and to try and clear the name of his "dear friend." You see, our college is on probation, primarily for financial issues. This man hopes to gather other bigoted people to keep friends and alumni from supporting our college unless we comply with his demands. He says things to me like “this is what’s going to happen” and “you will” do X and Y during his brief and troubling calls. I am not worried by his threats. His "facts" are wrong. More importantly, I know how much our alumni and friends care for Bethany College.

None of the racist perpetrators of the event on campus know my children. They don't know my adopted, biracial son, or care how he struggles with a rare, life-threatening kidney disease on a daily basis. Nor do they really care about my youngest daughter who is white. She loves her siblings, all of them (all!), adores pink shirts, and is too scared of flies to hurt one. No, this man doesn’t care about any of those things. He took this deplorable action against my family and me because my family doesn’t have the same skin color.

And the people involved certainly don't care if their actions have caused fear to creep into my wife's daily life since this incident. This man doesn't understand how a parent might feel, especially a mom, when her children are targeted with hate by strangers. He and his small band of troublemakers just write racially offensive and frightening messages in the middle of the night and go on their hateful way.

Even if he reads this, he still will not care. He will think and repeat some of his well-rehearsed, brain-washed lines. You can't debate such hatred. He and his followers use racist sources like they are scientific studies, or they take bits and pieces and parts of the things we treasure, like holy scripture, as proof of their point of view. They don't care to look at the overarching message of scripture – God is love, God made all of us from one blood, and Jesus instructed us to love God and each other.

So, who am I writing to? I'm writing to you. What are we (you and I) to do?

As President of Bethany College, I worked with the college's leadership team and our attorney to ban this man and three others that might have been sympathetic to his cause from our campus. We worked to protect our students. Within 24 hours, we informed our students, faculty, and staff of the incident and our actions. Our campus held a prayer service for a time of reflection. I spoke with our coaches to educate them on the incident and discussed the protection of our students. I met groups of students to discuss the incident. The police are making extra patrols of our area. In addition, we are adding additional layers of security. As President (and as dad of the Jones children), I am working with the authorities.

As a parent, I am writing this to you. Please challenge racism wherever you encounter it. Hurtful, racist actions are not "activism." Hate language is not blunt talk. Get to know people of other races and cultures. Think about what you post or share online or the jokes you tolerate. Use your imagination to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, kicks, or sandals. Do the simple thing and treat all people the way you want to be treated.

As a Christian, I must turn my anger into love. Jesus wants me to love my enemies (even the ones I didn't pick, but picked me). Make no mistake, the love I am writing about is not the same affection you feel towards friends or family. Rather, it is the love that allows us to decide to see the people who would seek to hurt us through God's eyes. It is undeserved love. It is the love that we are taught, as Christians, to show to our fellow human beings. I'm praying that I will find it. And, I'm praying that God will help this man and other racist people to see how sinful they are being and that they will turn away from evil.

As a community member, I hope you will join me. Please pray for my children and wife. Please pray for Bethany College and for protection against those who would hurt us. Please pray that our wonderful town, Lindsborg, doesn't allow the hate of a couple of people to infect our community. Please pray for emotional and spiritual healing for this man and for anyone who has been corrupted by his hate. Please pray that the organization he has "affiliated" with will fail. And, make time (not excuses) to join with worship services or efforts that promote love, kindness, service, understanding, and community."


Will Jones,

Bethany College, President