As a deep freeze broke out across the Midwest, so did racial intolerance on Twitter among some University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign students over Chancellor Phyllis Wise’s decision to keep the university running.
When Wise sent out a mass email Jan. 26, announcing that classes would resume on Monday, some students expressed resentment of her decision on Twitter.
According to Inside Higher Ed, a “flurry of comments focused on Wise’s status as a woman and as an Asian-American,” were tweeted in response to the mass email. The hashtag several students chose was #F—Phyllis.
There were more than 1,900 tweets using the hashtag #F—Phyllis Wise, according to the Huffington Post.
One of the offensive tweets used in the hate campaign against Wise with the F-bomb hashtag read: “In room with Phyllis Wise, Adolf Hitler and a gun with one bullet. Who do I shoot,” Inside Higher Ed. reported.
A petition on Change.org — signed by 8,930 people — was created in an attempt to get the university to cancel classes on Jan. 27 when the 25 to 35 degree below zero wind chills prompted the National Weather Service to issue wind chill advisories for central Illinois.
“It takes me 12 minutes to walk to class, I will die before I get there,” Marissa Villafuerte in Champaign, Ill. commented on the website.
“I think it’s ironic I have to walk to class on Public Health … in -20 wind chill,” Ryan Prais in Lindenhurst, Ill. said on the website.
Not all students supported the short-lived protest movement urging Wise to halt classes. Wise received an “outpouring of support from many people, including former students,” UIUC spokeswoman Robin Kaler said. Kaler also said one student sent Wise a bouquet of flowers, according to the Chicago Tribune.
According to the Chicago Tribune, university police did not determine the hate tweet protest to be a threat to Wise.
Although Wise admitted the tweets disturbed her, UIUC is not planning any disciplinary action as they have categorized the social media protest as a “free speech issue.”
Wise responded to the student dissenters in an op-ed published by Inside Higher Ed.
“What was most disturbing was witnessing social media drive a discussion quickly into the abyss of hateful comments and even threats of violence,” Wise said. “I shudder to think what might happen if that type of vitriol were directed at a vulnerable member of our student body or university community.”
On the Chancellor’s Blog, Wise stated her plans to “[elevate] the discussion” on the UIUC campus on “civil discourse” and “respectful debate.”
“This is a chance for us to talk about how we go about ensuring our campus environment is one that encourages diverse opinion and fair debate and is a place where great ideas flourish,” she said.