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WWU students stage sit-in over handling of hate crime investigation

WWU students stage sit-in over handling of hate crime investigation (PHOTO: KOMO News)

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - Students took over the president's office at Western Washington University on Monday night to show their outrage over the handling of a hate crime investigation.

Their concern is that a fellow student was arrested for vandalizing the school with racist and homophobic graffiti, but the university is still allowing him limited access back on campus.

“We don't feel that the university is responding in the best way that they could,” said Kiaya Wilson, one of the students taking part in the sit-in.

Many students want Shayne Merwin expelled after he was arrested for a string of vandalism in a dorm, on buildings and on sculptures. The university did trespass Merwin from all university housing and dining halls, but still planned to allow him to attend classes.

“Having him and his presence on this campus for other people to be tormented by is something that I feel has threatened the safety of a lot of other people,” said Abdul-Malik Ford, who’s now in his third year at WWU.

Students brought up other shortcomings, including a lack of ethnic studies programs and a hiring process that has resulted in a faculty with very few minorities.

“I didn't have my first P.O.C., person of color, teacher until maybe middle of my second year here at Western,” said Jana Obune.

WWU President Sabah Randhawa came out to meet with the students and listened to their concerns for several hours. He promised to keep the dialogue going.

Randhawa sent out a campus-wide email earlier in the day in which he assured students the university is "doing everything in [its] power to protect those most vulnerable ... while adhering to due process requirements," regarding Merwin. He added, a campus investigation is underway that could result in "sanctions, including suspension or expulsion."

On Monday night, administrators said Merwin had decided on his own not to return to campus for the rest of the fall quarter. He will be back in court on Friday — possibly to face hate crime charges.

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