Follow up to malicious emails

Dear Wake Forest community,

Three weeks ago, seven individuals and five offices on our Reynolda Campus received vile, anonymous emails, spreading messages of white supremacy and hate. Recipients of the emails felt threatened, and concern for the wellbeing and safety of our community continues to spread with each retelling of what our campus has experienced. We continue efforts to protect the campus community, comfort those who were targeted and to support all of you who feel the trauma of these toxic words.

Three questions continue to arise—from some of you, as well as your family members and Wake Forest alumni.

Do we know the emails’ source?  Our own cybersecurity team worked swiftly to determine the source, and contracted with an expert national cybersecurity firm to assist in that effort. The emails’ sender—as all too often with hate-speech trolls—is untraceable. Other universities have been targeted with similar emails over the past year and all have proven difficult to track.

Is our campus under threat? Immediately following these emails’ arrival, Wake Forest police chief Regina Lawson contacted local, state, and federal law enforcement specialists—including the FBI’s hate crimes division and the domestic terrorism division that specailizes in white nationalists —to review the emails and conduct a thorough threat assessment.

As Chief Lawson communicated to faculty and staff after this review, and as indicated in the email to campus on September 19, while none of the emails contained actionable threats or detailed a specific attack on our campus, they still elicited the fear the sender likely intended.

Given lingering campus concerns, the University retained a separate, third-party threat assessment firm to provide an additional level of scrutiny, and to determine if any further security measures were appropriate. The firm delivered its findings on Friday, which underscored the initial law enforcement conclusion that the campus remains safe. Specifically, the assessment concluded, “nothing in the emails indicates an immediate, ongoing, or likely threat of physical violence.”

How can I help? The latest threat-assessment report offered helpful suggestions to empower us all to be better stewards of our community’s safety. The experts recommend:

  • Maintaining situational awareness; noticing undue focus or interest in activities, relationships or patterns of behavior
  • Noting and confronting inappropriate behavior in a timely and respectful way
  • Reporting concerns about the behavior of individuals that is disruptive, disrespectful or harmful to members of the campus community

The mantra that we are all familiar with from traveling through airports, train stations and other public areas, “if you see something, say something,” holds true for our campus. Looking out for one another and caring for those who feel unsafe is a vital step we can take to restore a sense of security in our community.  If you see something of concern, please contact the University Police Department at 336-758-5911.

Finally, the threat assessment by the contracted third-party experts suggests the more public attention drawn to the emails, the greater the gratification for the author. However, we understand the importance of assuring our community that we are taking all prudent steps to keep you safe and that our conversations around the vital topics of equity, privilege, race, gender and empowerment will not be silenced.

For those who feel unsettled or uncomfortable, we ask that you seek support from these helpful resources: The University Counseling Center (336-758-5273), the Chaplain’s Office (336-758-5210) and the Employee Assistance Program (336-716-5493). These dedicated and talented professionals in our community are eager to provide care to those in need.

We strive to be one community and one Wake Forest. Please seek to see the good in others, and to extend your hand of understanding and friendship first. Our community is not perfect, but we can make it better each day with our own actions toward one another. As Dr. Maya Angelou used to affirm to her Wake Forest students: “Change happens at the speed of trust.” Our trust is in each of you, as we build paths to inclusion and belonging by walking them together.

Sincerely,

Nathan Hatch, President

Rogan Kersh, Provost

Jane Aiken, Dean of the School of Law

Michele Gillespie, Dean of the College

Charles Iacovou, Dean of the School of Business

Penny Rue, Vice President for Campus Life

José Villalba, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion

Jonathan L. Walton, Dean of the School of Divinity

Contact

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If Your Student Has a Problem

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Orientation 2019 slide shows

Select slide shows and handouts from Orientation sessions are available online.