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November 11, 2016

'Build the wall' video, 'N***** Lynching' GroupMe leave Penn campus uneasy

Several incidents in and around the University of Pennsylvania's campus, including a video of people shouting "Build a Wall" and black students being added to a racist GroupMe called "N***** Lynching," left many on the West Philadelphia campus visibly shaken Friday afternoon.

UPDATE: Penn: Three involved in cyber racism against black students

The disturbing events began with a video circulating on social media that shows people, who cannot be confirmed as Penn students, chanting "build the wall" as election results poured in early Wednesday morning. The scene unfolded at Smokey Joe's, a popular bar adjacent to the school's University City campus that dubs itself "a standby for UPenn students since 1933."

One man in the video is heard saying, "Where's Bernie Sanders now?"

The video originally was posted by Mauricio Diaz Padilla, who's listed as a research assistant at Penn, with the comment "Do Americans really still wonder why the rest of the world hates them so much?"

Calvary Rogers, a sophomore at Penn and the vice president of external affairs for the class of 2019, told PhillyVoice there's implicit racism at the school that's been fueled by this past presidential election. Though, he was completely shocked when he found out Friday that most of the the black members of the freshman class had been added to a GroupMe that he said was called "N***** Lynching," a story originally reported by the university's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian.

GroupMe is a mobile messaging app that makes it easy to talk to large groups of people. Members are added to GroupMe messages by using a name, phone number or email address. Rogers, who's actively involved on campus, said he's not even sure how to get access to that information.

Similars groups called "Mud Med" and "Trump is Love" were also created along with an event called "Daily Lynching."

Rogers said he ran to the vice provost's office to see what could be done, and there he broke down in tears.

"For me, the situation's bigger than this GroupMe," Rogers said. "It's bigger than here [at the University of Pennsylvania]. For me, I don't know. It would be nice of Donald Trump to denounce those things."

Trump graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1968. 

In a statement,  University of Pennsylvania spokesperson said the GroupMe originated in Oklahoma and the situation was being investigated:

"The account contains violent, racist and thoroughly repugnant images and messages. Our police and information security staff are trying to locate the exact source and see what steps can be taken to cut the account off. Staff in the office of VPUL [Vice Provost for University Life] are trying to determine exactly how many students were impacted and how best to provide support. Affected students have been encouraged to contact the Vice Provost for University Life. The University is taking every step possible to address both the source of the racist material and the impact it has had on Black students on campus."

This was later confirmed by University of Oklahoma President David Boren, who announced the temporary suspension of a student following a joint investigation by Penn Police and the FBI. 

In a separate statement, Penn president Amy Gutmann, provost Vincent Price and executive vice president Craig Carnaroli condemned the messages and urged the campus to unite around the values of respect and diginity for everyone in the community. 

"We are absolutely appalled that earlier today Black freshman students at Penn were added to a racist GroupMe account that appears to be based in Oklahoma. The account itself is totally repugnant: it contains violent, racist and thoroughly disgusting images and messages. This is simply deplorable ... The racism of this GroupMe message is profoundly inimical to what we stand for as a university. We will take every step possible to counteract its appalling bias. And we all stand together in solidarity with our Black students who have been so terribly targeted."

Mayor Jim Kenney also issued a statement Friday condemning the message. He called on the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to investigate. 

"Everyone is welcome in Philadelphia regardless of whether they are a freshman at one of our universities or if they've always called Philadelphia home," Kenney said. "It is heartbreaking to see this type of activity here in the birthplace of our democracy and the city of brotherly love."

Students also gathered outside Van Pelt Library Friday afternoon to voice their concern.

Penn students have circulated a petition calling on Trump to "break his disturbing silence" on the "racist activity taking place." It had nearly 2,500 supporters by Saturday morning. 

"What has occurred is NOT acceptable," the petition read. "We will NOT stand for it on our campus or anywhere in this country."