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Students protest racism at liberal arts college in Minnesota

St. Olaf College junior Krysta Wetzel cries while addressing President David R. Anderson in the Tomson Hall auditorium after numerous acts of incidents of racial hate happened on campus, Monday, May 1, 2017, in Northfield, Minn. (Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via AP)

NORTHFIELD, Minn. (AP) — Hundreds of students boycotted classes at St. Olaf College in southern Minnesota on Monday and instead packed an administration building to protest a rash of racist and threatening messages left around campus at the liberal arts college.

The protests erupted over the weekend after one black student, Samantha Wells, found an anonymous note on her car windshield Saturday calling her a racial slur.

“I am so glad you are leaving soon,” the note read. “You have spoken up too much. You will change nothing. Shut up or I will shut you up.”

After the boycott was announced, the St. Olaf administration cancelled classes for the day so students, faculty and staff could discuss racism and diversity on the private Lutheran school’s campus. St. Olaf President David Anderson met with protesters in the afternoon and signed a framework agreement on how to proceed with addressing those issues.

The school released a statement saying other reported racist acts included written racial epithets, and that officials considered it “deeply troubling” that the latest messages were directed at specific individuals.

There have been no reports of physical attacks at the college in Northfield, which is about 45 miles (70 kilometers) south of Minneapolis.

St. Olaf has about 3,000 students, and its student body is 74 percent white, 6 percent Asian, 6 percent Hispanic and 2 percent black, according to the school’s website.

Speakers at a rally in the atrium at Tomson Hall on Monday morning demanded that St. Olaf adopt a policy of zero tolerance for racism. Some protest leaders interrupted a meeting led by Anderson, reading aloud an 11-page list of demands.

“Our mission is to hold the administration and students of St. Olaf College accountable for the institutionalized racism that is embedded within the structures of this campus”, the document said. “We aim that St. Olaf College will recognize that these racially charged reported and unreported hate crimes are not driven by individual incidents or students, but an ideology that is continuously supported by the administration’s lack of action and the student body’s harmful attitudes.”

The school said it was working with police to determine who was behind the racist messages. Northfield Police Chief Monte Nelson said his department’s role was primarily advisory and that it had not opened a formal investigation.

“Someone, somewhere knows who is perpetrating these acts of racism,” the statement said, urging anyone with information to come forward.

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