Raleigh, N.C. — Police at North Carolina State University are investigating a case of vandalism in which someone spray-painted a homophobic slur and the words "burn" and "die" outside the campus's gay and lesbian center.
Justine Hollingshead, director of the N.C. State GLBT Center, said Tuesday that a student discovered the graffiti, still wet, around 9:20 p.m. Monday on the center's office door and display case in Harrelson Hall.
"It's a little unnerving. This isn't free expression," she said. "It was directed at the GLBT community and occurred right at the center of campus. It certainly proves that we have work to do."
According to its website, the GLBT Center works to create, maintain and strengthen a safe campus environment for people of all sexualities, gender identities and gender expressions by promoting awareness and offering educational programs and community outreach.
"People have different beliefs, and unfortunately, those don't always align with what we would hope at the institution that everybody can feel welcome," Hollingshead said.
Joanne Woodard, N.C. State's vice provost for institutional equity and diversity, said the university and campus police are taking the crime seriously.
"This is not the kind of message we want conveyed about the N.C. State campus community," Woodard said. "We've been working hard over the last few years to convey that we are an inclusive and welcoming community, and to have an incident like this happen really takes us back a notch."
The graffiti comes on the heels of what Woodard called a successful outreach effort last week that coincided with National Coming Out Day to promote diversity and inclusion on campus.
"It had been a very reaffirming week for the GLBT community and their allies on campus," she said. "It was very disheartening to see that a building had been defaced in that manner."
"We are redoubling our activities and reaffirming the activities we've been engaged with to be sure that the people on the campus feel included and they feel welcome," Woodard added. "And we want them to feel safe."
This isn't the first time N.C. State has had to deal with defamatory remarks on the campus.
Racist speech in the campus's Free Expression Tunnel – a public pedestrian tunnel where students can express themselves with graffiti art – became an issue after a message threatening violence against President Barack Obama was spray-painted the night he was elected in November 2008.
In 2010, someone also painted racist and homophobic graffiti involving Obama in the Free Expression Tunnel.
Those incidents prompted the University of North Carolina System to adopt a policy prohibiting actions defined by federal and state laws as hate crimes.
Unlike the tunnel incidents, Woodard said, Monday's vandalism was against state property, and whoever is responsible could face criminal charges, as well as university sanctions for violating the Code of Student Conduct, which prohibits any student or group from harassing another student or group based upon race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.
It would be up to N.C. State's campus police and, ultimately, the Wake County District Attorney's Office about whether the vandalism warrants a hate crime charge.
"To have this happen in a classroom building, it breaks it out of that free-expression zone – that designated spot on campus where people can freely express their ideas, as hateful as they might be," Woodard said. "When it comes to a classroom building or office building and this kind of graffiti being spray-painted there, it moves to the level of being a crime. You're defacing state property."