Raleigh, N.C. — Several hundred students, staff and faculty gathered at North Carolina State University's Brickyard Thursday afternoon to speak out against an act of vandalism targeted toward a campus group focused on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and awareness.
Someone spray-painted a homophobic slur and the words "burn" and "die" outside the N.C. State GLBT Center Monday night, prompting the university community to hold The Ally Rally to speak out against what they are calling hate.
"In the days forward, we will overcome this act of hatred and be stronger as a Wolfpack family – a community that welcomes everyone," the GLBT Center's director, Justine Hollingshead, told the crowd.
Chalk drawings with phrases like "equality for all" and "State, not hate" decorated the brick plaza at the heart of the campus, and organizers passed out purple bracelets with the word "ally" printed on them as a way to show unity.
Students also wrote messages on strips of paper, creating what's called the Wolfpack Chain of Hope. "All you need is LOVE," one student, Kasi Wetherington, wrote.
"I just feel like, if people weren't around to support other causes like this in the past, then we would never be open to the things we are now," Wetherington said. "Look how diverse our campus is. If people hadn't rallied to help those people, they wouldn't be here either."
By noon Thursday, about 500 students had also signed an online statement from N.C. State student leaders calling the vandalism unacceptable and for the campus community to "denounce it in every corner of our university."
"The way that we're reacting, the way the campus is reacting, that's who N.C. State is, and this is what the rally is trying to show," Rachel Turner, a member of the university's Student Senate, said.
Investigators still don't know who is responsible for the graffiti. Police said they hope surveillance cameras outside Harrelson Hall, where the GLBT Center's office is located, will help identify the culprit.
Whoever is responsible could face criminal charges. School officials have said they could also face sanctions by the university for violating the Code of Student Conduct, which forbids anyone from targeting another student or group based upon race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.
"We've run the gamut of anger and sadness and students just trying to figure out how we deal with this and feel like we matter," Hollingshead said. "People are outraged that it would happen, regardless of your values and beliefs. We're all human beings, and that's how everyone wants to be treated."
N.C. State officials have called the incident a setback for progress made over the past few years to try to make the university comfortable and safe for everyone.
Earlier this year, the GLBT Center produced a 14-minute video of straight, gay and transgender students, faculty and staff, including N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson, touting an inclusive and welcoming environment for students, staff and faculty.
N.C. State's provost and executive vice chancellor, Warwick Arden, spoke at the rally, condemning the vandalism as a "reprehensible act of hatred and intimidation" and echoing other sentiments that better understanding of one another's differences could potentially result from the situation.
"(It's) an opportunity for an increased level and enhanced level of dialog on the campus about our core values and about who we are as an institution," Arden said. "Frank discussion about what diversity really means, about what inclusion really means."
"It would be easy to retreat, but that is not the Wolfpack way or the answer, and we are simply not going away as a (GLBT) community," Hollingshead said.
"N.C. State is about something more. We are better than those words of hate, and we have got to move to a place where we can have discussion, disagree on occasion, support and respect one another and at the end of the day, know that we are all welcome here," she continued.