A car was marked with the N-word at the University of Utah on Monday morning — shortly before the celebrations on campus of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
University officials say the graffitied racial slur was done by someone pressing their finger into the frost on the car’s windshield and was not permanent. But, they say, the act was serious. They have identified multiple individuals involved, according to a statement from the school, and are “taking appropriate actions.”
“This word evokes white supremacy, reminds us that a violent, racist past is still with us today, and invokes fear at a time when we strive to ensure that all our staff, students and faculty find their place as part of our campus community,” wrote the university’s senior leadership, including U. President Ruth Watkins, in a letter shared with students and faculty Tuesday evening.
U. spokeswoman Annalisa Purser said the school is hoping to release more details on the vandalism this week. For privacy reasons, she added, she declined to say if the car belonged to a student or person of color or where it was parked.
“We’re not sure if it was targeted,” Purser said. “We’re still gathering details.”
It’s also unclear if the graffiti was done by students. And the university will not say what actions it has taken against those individuals — though it notes more than one person was involved. The vandalism is not considered criminal because it did not cause permanent damage.
The letter from campus leaders states: “We can say we will not tolerate such behavior, but when done covertly, we cannot stop the act in the moment. What we can do — and what we will do — is build our anti-racist muscles.”
Roughly 500 people marched on campus Monday to mark the holiday. And the university will continue holding events to honor Martin Luther King throughout the week with a full schedule found at diversity.utah.edu/mlk.
The school — and others in Utah — has had issues recently with white supremacist groups coming to campus, hanging up posters and stickers and trying to recruit new members. That came to a dramatic head last February when Identity Evropa, which is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, hiked the hill to the concrete block U above the university and laid down a banner that declared, “End immigration!”
Those involved said it was in retaliation for Watkins previously denouncing the group’s actions at the college in January 2019.
In response to the vandalism Monday, the university’s Office of the Vice President for Equity and Diversity will form a group to look at how to make the campus more inclusive. The letter from school officials also included phone numbers for support services, including the Office for Equal Opportunity — at 801-581-8365 — where students and faculty can file a harassment or discrimination complaint.