Campus debate about racism at U. of C. leads to ugly Facebook hack; feds investigating

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The University of Chicago and federal authorities are investigating the hacking of a student activist’s Facebook page, which was used to post a “hateful” message directed toward “members of our community,” school officials said Wednesday.

“At least one . . . student was hacked, and a message with hateful and abhorrent attacks on members of our community was posted,” U. of C. officials said in a statement posted on the school’s website. “An investigation is underway with the help of federal law enforcement agencies and third-party website providers to see if we can determine who posted the message.”

The investigation comes after the Hyde Park campus has been roiled by debate over cultural and racial insensitivity in recent weeks.

The debate was stirred up by student activists who wanted to publicize the fact that several purported members of the student body members dressed up for Halloween as “cholos” — a racially insensitive caricature of Latino men, often connoting criminality.

On Nov. 14, the students posted an online petition demanding that the school “address the culture of racial intolerance.” The petition had 1,000 supporters as of Wednesday evening.

But the activists’ efforts have also drawn backlash, said Vincente Perez, a 20-year-old junior.

On Tuesday night, the Facebook page of a fellow student activist was hacked, Perez said. And the all-caps message the hacker posted wasn’t pretty.

Using a racial epithet for African-Americans, the writer of the message criticized those agitating for greater racial understanding, saying the activists’ efforts amounted to “PLANS TO DISRUPT MINE AND MY FELLOW UCHICAGOANS STUDY TIME.”

“GO F – – – YOURSELVES,” the message states. Then, specifically naming Perez, the writer of the message wrote. “NONE OF YOUR PROFILES ARE SAFE. THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF OUR RAPE SEASON, RAPE HARD AND HARDER UNTIL THEY’RE QUIET, BROTHERS.”

Perez said campus debate — leading to the invective-filled message — began when a group of people he identified as students wore “racist” Halloween costumes.

“It started on Halloween when several students dressed in ‘cholo’ costumes,” Perez said. He first saw a student wearing the costume aboard a campus bus. Later, pictures emerged online showing others dressed similarly, he said. In one photo, a white student who appears to be dressed as a police officer is mock-beating a male dressed in sagging pants, a bandanna and a flannel shirt that was buttoned only at the top.

The pictures were posted online and Perez drew attention to them, hoping to elicit a response from the school. But some in the student community were dismissive, he said, suggesting that “this isn’t a big deal” and “you guys shouldn’t have any issue with this.”

Disenchanted with a response from the university that he found lacking, Perez and another student, Jaime Sanchez, launched the online petition.

Last Friday, activists including Perez had a meeting with university officials. A school spokesman described the meeting as “productive.”

But Perez said the school didn’t release a public statement until his friend’s Facebook page was hacked.

In their statement, university officials said whoever was responsible for the Facebook hack could face legal consequences.

“We will pursue criminal prosecution, and if the individual is a member of our community we will pursue disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion or termination of employment,” they said in the statement. “Getting answers to these questions may be difficult, but regardless of the outcome we must engage in active discussion about the impact of these attacks on our campus.”

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