Vandalism named a bias incident

BART makes a formal statement, XUPD investigation still in progress

BY HUNTER ELLIS AND CHLOE SALVESON, Managing Multimedia Editor and staff writer
Newswire photo by Chloe Salveson
Community members have filled the peace circle outside Bellarmine Chapel with signs affirming that ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Hate Has No Home Here.’ They remain standing despite the recent wind and heavy snowfalls.

While the Xavier University Police Department’s (XUPD) investigation of the vandalism that occurred outside Bellarmine Chapel the weekend of Jan. 29 is still ongoing, the Bias Advisory and Response Team (BART) has officially declared it as a bias incident.

BART responded to the incidents in a website post on Feb. 3. Allegedly, a member of Patriot Front, an organization listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “White nationalist hate group,” committed the vandalism. BART’s response “determined that it meets the University’s definition of a bias incident.”

The message encouraged students to access community resources, such as diversity and inclusion events and counseling services’ drop-in hours. 

The response was not sent to the student body partially because of the letter written by Father Michael Graham, president, on Monday, Feb. 1. In part, the letter read:

“As a University we shall continue to denounce these acts. And as our president, I will continue to unequivocally declare my belief — our belief — that Racism is a Sin and BLACK LIVES MATTER. You can be sure, as well, that we will investigate these crimes. Let me also assure you that we will leverage all of our resources to care for the safety and wellbeing of all our community members, in particular our Black students, staff and faculty.“

In the wake of this letter, Black student leaders recognized that the university was more responsive than it has been in the past, but criticized it for not doing more. 

“We need way more action rather than just statements and the typical ‘(I don’t) condone racism’ on every single page. While we really love that people are showing their support during this time, it’s just best if we have more actual action,” senior Sierra Stennis said of the university’s response.

According to Xavier’s Chief of Police Robert Warfel, XUPD’s investigation remains ongoing as they cooperate with Northern Kentucky University (NKU) Police, Thomas Moore College, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force based out of the Cincinnati and Louisville field offices. 

“There is no continuing threat or… concern for the safety of any member of the Xavier community relative to this act, but we are continuing to explore all leads and information,” Warfel stated. 

However, some students, such as senior Andrew Michael, implied that XUPD was unprepared for this incident. 

“XUPD’s response to this… has just made students feel unsafe. (People) felt like there was more protection being provided by this police force, but they have… been caught with their pants down,” Michael said. 

Senior Cameron Lakes also noted a need for preventative measures instead of reactionary ones.  

“Some preventative things we can do, now that we’ve had this conversation, is putting measures in place to not allow (White supremacist acts) to happen again,” Lakes said. 

According to student witnesses, vandalism of Xavier and Bellarmine property occurred between 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 29 and 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30. Students found stickers promoting Patriot Front and Bellarmine’s Black Lives Matter banner sliced in half. Both the sign and stickers were taken down by XUPD within a couple of hours. 

Initially, just 12 stickers were first reported to XUPD on Jan. 30 at 3:43 p.m. However, XUPD, in coordination with Physical Plant, located and removed a total of 15 to 17 stickers that weekend.

“They conduct these propaganda efforts to influence people to search for their name, through curiosity or concern, causing ‘hits’ to their sites,” Warfel added to his statement. “This attention often empowers extremist groups to attempt additional propaganda acts in the hope of creating another news story or media coverage.”

These stickers were posted in various locations across campus, including on lamp posts outside of Bellarmine Chapel and Gallagher Student Center, on the doors of Alter Hall and on signage near Buenger Hall. 

Warfel also explained that Patriot Front has targeted Xavier and the surrounding community before. 

“We had a previous documented appearance of this group at Xavier in 2019 which was addressed by XUPD, and there have been no further incidents until January 2021,” he said. 

“It’s not surprising because this isn’t the first time,” Lakes stated. “Now that the White nationalists groups have invaded our space, our Xavier bubble (and) this place that is supposed to be a home…  it’s more real and something we have to confront because it came to us.” 

“It’s not something new for White supremacy groups to be on Xavier’s campus,” Michael added. “We’ve seen this at SGA elections (when) Turning Point USA tried to influence that. We’ve seen a Turning Point USA Instagram account pop up… This vandalism is just the culmination of all of it, an organization has finally come on Xavier’s campus, posted stuff and defaced a progressive sign.”

Since then, many smaller signs created by students and members of the Bellarmine community have taken the defaced sign’s place in the peace circle. Such actions have encouraged many people on campus, including Graham. 

“I have been heartened by the shows of solidarity and support I have heard of and those I’ve seen — like the ’garden’ of signs that has been constructed where the desecrated sign stood,” Graham said.

As XUPD continues their investigation, NKU recently released an image of a suspect for their vandalism, which occurred two days before the incident on Xavier’s campus.

While XUPD is actively partnering with fellow law enforcement agencies, Warfel also commented on the nature of Xavier’s investigation. 

“Investigations take time and are often constructed of fragmented pieces which need to be assembled through collaboration and cooperation to form a clear picture of what occurred,” Warfel said. 

Any community members with relevant information about the vandalism are still encouraged to contact the XUPD non-emergency number.