The APU community looks for answers after three racially motivated acts were committed on campus in a month

An Azusa Police Department vehicle and a Campus Safety vehicle in front of Adams Hall. (Graphic courtesy of Breana Schriker)

On the morning of Friday, Sept. 15, Azusa Pacific’s Campus Safety and the Azusa Police Department were called out to an incident on West Campus. An APU student found his car vandalized with profanity and racial slurs written in permanent marker.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), a hate crime is a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

This hate crime marks the third racially motivated attack this school year – three attacks, all over the course of a month.

All of the attacks have been aimed towards African American students, with the “N-word” written out on the victims’ vehicles.

The first incident occurred Aug. 27 during Welcome Weekend, where two RA’s from University Park (UP) found the N-word written in dirt on a car alongside an illustrated penis. The second attack, similar to the first, happened approximately one week later in UP—once again with the N-word written in dirt on another victim’s car. The final incident was Sept. 15 that gained mass attention of students.

APU’s President Jon Wallace expressed his emotions when he first learned about the attacks.

“I felt anger, disgust and a really deep sadness that we have students who have been targeted and victimized,” Wallace said. “More than that now, we have a community that’s in this very painful place.”

It is unclear whether the three attacks are related or if they were committed by the same person.

“It doesn’t matter to me if they’re related, what matters is that it should not have happened at all,” Wallace said. “What matters is that some cowardly person decided to use words that deeply wound others, and it happened to a member of this Christ-centered community.”

After the third incident occurred, a social media video went viral around campus, where the victim recorded the damage and explicit language that was written on his car. The video shows the N-word written numerous times in different places around his car in black permanent marker.

Although the victim did not post the video to his own social media, they can be heard in the video saying, “this has happened multiple times already” to a Campus Safety officer.

Zu News reached out to the victim of this third racially motivated incident, but they expressed they are still grieving and would like to remain anonymous at this time.

As the APU community is still looking for answers, alongside Campus Safety, they are still searching for possible suspect(s). Campus Safety Executive Director and Chief Tim Finneran is leading the investigations of all three cases and hopes to find answers soon.

Finneran graduated from the FBI National Academy and worked with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department from 1985 to 2014, where he helped run the terrorism unit.

Although Finneran could not discuss the details of the incidents as they are all still under investigation, he did express how disturbing and rare these hate crimes have been.

“In my 33 years of public service, I have never seen three incidents of this nature occur within such a close proximity of time,” Finneran said.

He also explained how upset he was to see this happen at APU, a place that he considers very safe and welcoming.

“It’s disappointing that it has occurred here,” Finneran said. “It saddens and angers me because my daughter graduated from this university and picked this university because of its Christ-centered values for our students, staff and faculty, so I take it very personally.”

In order to help students who may be struggling with this issue or who fear they may be targeted next in racial attacks, multiple organizations on campus have held events this past week.

One of these events was held Thursday, Sept. 21 by APU’s Black Student Association (BSA). The event was open to all APU students, staff and faculty and served as an open forum for many to express their concerns and fears. Many students attended and shared their personal stories of racial incidents they have experienced while at APU on a regular basis and called for immediate action.

In attendance of Thursday’s emotional event was Student Center for Reconciliation and Diversity Executive Director, Aaron Hinojosa.

Hinojosa expressed that he was heartbroken over the three incidents that had happened on campus, especially in a Christian community.

“What’s hard is that this is all happening on a Christian campus. We are all called to live a life like Jesus, and Jesus lived his life with those who were different and those who were oppressed,” Hinojosa said. “It makes me wonder from what perspective are people reading this Bible from. Are we reading the same text?”

Hinojosa knows that he has a huge responsibility that he has to try and help students of color on campus. He wants to help all students of color, especially black students at this time, to feel safe and welcomed on campus, while being able to have all incoming students be properly trained on social justice issues.

“My main goal is finding a way to serve our students of color on this campus,” Hinojosa said. “I want to also reach those who are apathetic towards the situation and make them understand the situation. Even prior to this incident, we are looking to see how we can train all incoming students around race, racism, diversity and ethnicity.”

Little information is known about the three incidents, as only two of the three incidents were reported to the student body. There was a mass email sent out to the student body informing students of both the first and third incidents, but the second was omitted.

Hinojosa explained that this issue is far from over on campus and will not go away anytime soon.

“This won’t just go away. There is a process to it—a process of grieving and of lament. It’s almost as if there was a death, as if something died here,” Hinojosa said. “It’s the idea that there was a hope and a dream for students who may have thought: ‘maybe I’m going to go through this year without something like this happening to me,’ and that idea got crushed immediately.”

The first attack happened approximately two weeks after the fatal Charlottesville attack in Virginia. There is no evidence whether today’s current political climate had played a factor in these racially motivated incidents on campus.

APU Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Kimberly B.W. Denu expressed that the incident on campus could have relevance with everything happening in America right now, but hopes that both Campus Safety and Azusa P.D. can find answers soon.

“There have been three hateful acts since school has started. Campus Safety and the Azusa Police Department are actively investigating all three,” Denu said. “While these acts in rapid succession have been overwhelming to our community, there has also been a recent surge of hate crimes and hate speech nationally. In a span of roughly one month over nine hundred incidents or hate speech/hate rallies/hate crimes were documented around the nation.”

Wallace expressed that at this moment, the culture and society in America is divided in many different ways. He urges for elected officials on both sides of the political spectrum to find common ground to stand on. According to Wallace, this will be the only way to see hope and change in our society.

“In culture and society today, we are so divided. I would say that we are divided politically, culturally, economically, and we are divided even in our educational systems,” Wallace said. “My greatest hope is that our elected officials on both sides of the isle, will begin to model for us what civility, respect, courtesy and words of hope and grace look like. Our community, our state, our country and our world is a hopeless place when we cannot find common ground to stand on.”

Wallace went on to explain that as Christians, we are obligated to put our neighbors before ourselves, and urges all students to take action if they see or know of any racial or hateful acts that are being committed on campus.

“Our motto is ‘God First,’ and that means putting our neighbor in front of ourselves… we can speak words of life, and we will be accountable for speaking words of death. We need to lead each other in that direction,” Wallace said. “We make this campus safe by speaking out. If you see something, say something. We make this campus safe by recognizing the image of God in each of us and guarding our words and behaviors so that no one is diminished because of our actions.”

If you have any information regarding these crimes, please call Campus Safety at (626) 815-3898 or the Azusa Police Department at (626) 812-3200.