Racist campus messages aimed at Kansas college president trigger a ‘fight against hate and evil’

Racist messages were written in chalk on the sidewalks of Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan., earlier this month.
Racist messages were written in chalk on the sidewalks of Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan., earlier this month. Bethany College

The new president of Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan., says his family is the target of nearly a dozen racist messages written in chalk on sidewalks around the school’s campus earlier this month.

One of the messages said: “Make Lindsborg white again.”

William Jones, president of the Lutheran liberal arts college in a small Kansas known for its Swedish roots, detailed the incident in an emotional Facebook post on Friday.

“What do you do when a white supremacist writes racist and hateful messages directed at your children and at the students you work to serve? Seriously, what should a person do who desires to follow Christ?” Jones wrote on the Lindsborg Now Facebook page, where hundreds of people have expressed support for him, the school and the town.

“What should a college and community do to respond to such hate? These are questions I’ve been wrestling with as a professional and parent for the past two weeks.”

Jones, who is white, became the school’s president in May. He and his wife have six children, two of whom are biracial children they adopted.

Jones wrote that people claiming allegiance to a “hate organization” wrote the messages, one of which was the chalk outline of a body with the words “rest in peace friend.”

Students found the messages, about a dozen of them, late at night on Sept. 3, on sidewalks that run through the center of campus, according to KWCH in Wichita.

The school is working with Lindsborg police, who are investigating.

“We’re letting students know that it’s not something we’re going to stand for,” Tina Goodwin, the school’s director of communications and marketing, told the Salina Journal.

Goodwin said that in addition to the racially offensive messages there were statements expressing support for Donald Trump for president. She said Bethany supports free speech and that the political messages were not washed off the sidewalk.

Jones wrote on Facebook that he was contacted by a person claiming responsibility for the graffiti just a few days after it happened. He said that person is not from Lindsborg and is not a Bethany student.

“He stated that the chalk messages were written in response to the make-up of my family (I have two adopted, biracial children), to some of the things that have been written and posted online and in the press about my work at the college, and in response to the students of color that Bethany College is recruiting,” Jones wrote on Facebook.

“Think about it. A man called my office to tell me that messages like the outline of a dead body and ‘make Lindsborg white again’ were directed at my family — the love of my life and my sweet children, ages seven to 14 years old. Let it sink into your mind and heart. Dead body outline. Children. Hate. As a parent, how would you feel?”

According to Inside Higher Ed, Bethany College, for being a small liberal arts college in a rural state, has been unusually successful in diversifying its student body, some of that through recruitment of student athletes. About 16 percent of the school’s 615 students are black, and another 16 percent are Hispanic.

Jones and his wife, Amy, and their children moved to Kansas from Georgia, where Jones led record fundraising and enrollment growth as a vice president at LaGrange College, the Salina Journal reported.

Jones told Inside Higher Ed that the man claiming responsibility for the incident called him a second time and left a message with his name and phone number.

“He was already on our radar and the police’s,” Jones told Inside Higher Ed. “We have turned this information over to the authorities. He also was identified in an earlier incident in Kansas City in which his organization posted stickers in parts of the city.”

Jones said he would not let the incident stop Bethany from continuing its efforts to recruit a diverse student population.

“As a parent, I am writing this to you. Please challenge racism wherever you encounter it. Hurtful, racist actions are not ‘activism,’” Jones wrote on Facebook.

“Hate language is not blunt talk. Get to know people of other races and cultures. Think about what you post or share online or the jokes you tolerate. Use your imagination to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, kicks, or sandals. Do the simple thing and treat all people the way you want to be treated.

“As a Christian, I must turn my anger into love.”

Jones’ words have touched off a flood of support online.

“We all feel terrible that this has happened, and it is not the welcome to Lindsborg that we wanted for you and your family,” one resident wrote. “Please know that we are so glad you’ve come and we will work to overcome this terrible incident.”

John Burchill, a professor at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina, which competes against Bethany in athletics, took to Facebook, too, calling on his colleagues to “stand up next to our brothers and sisters in Lindsborg and let them know that they are not alone.”

We might “fight to win on the court or field,” Burchill wrote, “but we are prepared to join them in the fight against hate and evil. It is time to stand up and be counted.”