Additional details emerge of racial threats causing class cancellation at Bemidji State University

In a conversation with BSU and NTC President John Hoffman on Monday, the Pioneer was given some information about a couple of ongoing investigations concerning racial threats.

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Bemidji State University
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Additional details have emerged regarding social media threats and other hate-based incidents on the Bemidji State campus that prompted class cancellations at BSU on Friday.

In a conversation with BSU and NTC President John Hoffman on Monday, the Pioneer was given some information about a couple of ongoing investigations concerning racial threats.

Hoffman referenced a “first incident” that occurred roughly two weeks ago with no additional details on what transpired, but that BSU immediately launched an investigation.

“We stepped in to provide care, ensure safety for our students,” Hoffman told the Pioneer.

With that investigation ongoing, Hoffman added that the administration learned of additional on-campus incidents including spoken and written use of the N-word.


Last Wednesday morning, the administration learned of another incident in the Hobson Memorial Union where students had developed a chalk mural, which initially included “Black Lives Matter” in writing. Hoffman said somebody had scratched out the word “Black” from the phrase.

He noted that these incidents led to the planning of a “Beaver Huddle” event Thursday night, March 2. BSU’s social media accounts detailed that the event — which took place in Hagg-Sauer Hall and was sponsored by the Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — would "tackle critical conversations about racial and social justice matters on campus."

Though Hoffman was absent from the event due to travel, he heard that a majority of the event went well but that near the end, somebody started using the messaging application Yik Yak to make anonymous threats of violence toward other people in the room.

BSU response

Administration released an all-student email late Thursday night following the event.

“During the event, our discussion was disrupted and threats were made on social media. This type of behavior will not be tolerated in our community,” the email stated.

The email credits Thursday night’s events for BSU’s decision to cancel all classes on Friday and that an active investigation is underway to identify those who made the threats.

“We had our crisis response team, members of the cabinet walk through what had occurred,” Hoffman stated. “From talking to the police, we did not have a sense that there was an immediate threat of violence on our campus to individuals, but there was clear emotional impact.”

Administration noted its work alongside on-campus Public Safety and the Bemidji Police Department, which has had an increased presence on and near campus since Thursday night.


“For those affected by these actions, we know that the abhorrent behavior of these individuals has seriously affected your sense of safety and security,” Thursday night’s email reads. “This is absolutely unacceptable.

“Direct threats were made against the safety of our students. We will respond. This will not stand at Bemidji State University.”

The email listed resources for students to share information about the incident including reaching out to BSU’s Office of Civil Rights or submitting an anonymous report using an online form.

On Friday afternoon, BSU held two sessions — one for faculty and one for students — that discussed the incidents and drew around 350 attendees according to Hoffman. The Pioneer attempted to attend one of the sessions, but the reporter was asked to leave due to it being a closed meeting.

At approximately 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Hoffman issued a statement that detailed the specific incident from Thursday.

"These acts against members of our community are unacceptable and go against our ideals of diversity, equity, inclusion and acceptance for all," Hoffman said in the release. "We simply cannot tolerate this kind of behavior."

While BSU is currently on spring break, Hoffman noted continual work and the next steps that the university is preparing to launch within the next week.

“We’ve got a couple of the investigations that are concluding and we’ve got some new investigations coming out of Thursday night that we’re now launching,” Hoffman stated on Monday.


Public response

Several members of the public, including Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince, expressed concern over the threats.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Prince wrote, "as a community, we have an obligation to stand against hate, threats and violence. This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated in our city as everyone has a fundamental right to live their life free of racism, threats and intimidation."

Students United, a group led by Minnesota State students, issued a letter of support for BSU on Friday.

"It is unacceptable to expect our Black students — and all students who experience racism — to go on with their lives, return to the classroom, get good grades, go to work and act normal after perpetuated threats of violence," the letter said. "For many students, the experiences of hostility, violence and disparities are on their own campuses.

"Today, that campus is Bemidji. Our students deserve better. Students deserve to be safe and thrive on campus. Black Lives Matter."

The matter remains under investigation.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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