Students, faculty and campus leaders condemn anti-immigrant vandalism and death threats against undocumented students

By Gary Walker

LMU students held a unity rally on campus in response to the immigrant-bashing graffiti Photo by Talia Baugnon / Los Angeles Loyolan

LMU students held a unity rally on campus in response to the immigrant-bashing graffiti
Photo by Talia Baugnon / Los Angeles Loyolan

Vandalism linked to anti-immigrant rhetoric and death threats made against undocumented students at Loyola Marymount University last week have sparked campus-wide solidarity in opposition to hate speech and triggered a broader conversation about free speech and political rhetoric.

Anti-immigrant graffiti appeared on a symbolic Styrofoam wall erected near the William Hannon Library on April 3 for a series of campus events dubbed “No Human Being is Illegal Week,” campus newspaper the Los Angeles Loyolan reported.

The tagging on the wall altered the phrases “Stop Deportations … No Human Being is Illegal” to read “Deport Illegals,” and scrawled the word “Trump” — presumably a reference to the Republican presidential candidate’s support for deporting undocumented immigrants — over a Bible quote.

Student groups held a candlelight vigil on April 5 and a unity rally on April 8 in response to the vandalism.

At around the same time the wall was vandalized, some LMU students who are immigrants received death threats via social media, according to the university’s Faculty Senate.

“The vandalism was unpleasant and unfortunate, but to me the threats are even more disconcerting,” said LMU professor Anna Muraco, a member of the faculty senate who said she had seen death threats sent to students over Snapchat.

The Faculty Senate has issued a unanimous resolution condemning the vandalism, threats and a “culture of intimidation directed towards students on social media via YikYak and Snapchat.”

“The free and open exchange of ideas, characterized by mutual respect and grounded in appeals to sound argument, constitute the foundation of any university community and are particularly essential for the pursuit of truth so central to a Catholic and Jesuit/Marymount education,” the resolution states.

No Human Being is Illegal Week was organized by several campus groups, including the student social justice group RESILIENCE.

LMU senior Mauro Gomez, president of RESILIENCE, said he is disappointed that the vandals did not choose to express their opinions during any of the numerous campus activities held that week.

“They didn’t have the courage to do something positive and come and talk about immigration and social justice issues,” said Gomez, who is majoring in political science.

Celeste Durant, LMU’s director of communications, said the school has installed a surveillance camera near the library to deter future vandalism.

In a letter to students, faculty and employees, LMU President Timothy Snyder noted that the school’s Bias Incident Response Team is investigating another incident of concern that occurred earlier this year during an intramural soccer game.

LMU Dean of Students Jeanne Ortiz declined to elaborate on the nature of that incident but said it involved several students.

“Each of these [incidents] require us to examine deeper our actions and our purpose as a Catholic, Jesuit and Marymount institution dedicated to the service of faith and the promotion of justice and, as part of that, an unwavering pursuit of truth,” wrote Snyder.

Ortiz said the unity rally on campus had already been planned as part of No Human Being is Illegal Week but “had increased significance” in the wake of the vandalism.

UCLA Law School professor Adam Winkler, an expert in constitutional law governing free speech, said the type of anti-immigrant slogans scrawled on the art installation at LMU raises larger safety concerns.

“We don’t know what inspired this particular attack, but rhetoric that demonizes vulnerable people can lead to violence and vandalism. That’s why so many Jewish people have been taken aback by the anti-immigrant rhetoric of some presidential  candidates,” Winkler said. “They know that demonization can spiral out of control.”

Snyder also alluded to the aggressive and antagonistic tone of the presidential primaries in his open letter.

“As Americans, we live in a time when emotions are running high, and have been for many months, evidenced by our political climate and national dialogue associated with it. This moment brings LMU an opportunity to soar: to demonstrate to others how civil society and civil discourse can thrive — and can improve the human condition,” Snyder wrote.

Muraco, who teaches sociology, says universities should be incubators for free expression.

“But those discussions should be grounded in intellectual thought, respect and civility,” she said.

Karis Addo-Quaye, editor in chief of The Los Angeles Loyolan, said the LMU community’s response to the vandalism speaks volumes about its true character.

“The unity and swift response of solidarity shown by students, faculty, staff and administration alike following the defacement of the wall was a proud thing to witness for me personally as a Lion,” Addo-Quaye said.

“Our campus — like any other — certainly isn’t perfect. However, so many of the people within it are good, loving and sincere in their effort to make it welcoming for all. That spirit, more than anything else, is what sticks at the end of the day.”