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UPDATED: Racist messages found in dorm at USCCB's Catholic University of America

The incident on Monday is said to be separate from the Wednesday arrest of a man trespassing in a changing area in the same all-female dorm.

Flather Hall at Catholic University America, where two separate incidents of harassment occurred on campus this week, reportedly by different individuals. (CUA)

Students at the Catholic University of America in Washington are reeling following the discovery on Monday of offensive messages on display in an all-female dormitory.

The messages, comprised of racist and sexist slurs, were found on doors in Flather Hall on Monday and immediately reported to campus police. The university administration released a statement the next day.

“We condemn this conduct, as it violates the respect we have for each person, which is a foundational and cherished value of The Catholic University of America,” President Peter Kilpatrick wrote.

The discovery of the hateful messages followed the university’s celebration of Black Catholic History Month on Sunday, with a Gospel Mass held in the main university chapel with students from Howard University and CUA’s Black Student Alliance.

The BSA’s leadership team released its own statement on Wednesday evening, calling the incident “unjust and harmful.”

“We must not allow this to go unnoticed for the safety and respect of all Catholic University students. We believe that no student should live in fear of being discriminated against or living inequitably to their white peers.”

(Catholic University of America Black Student Alliance)

Leaders of the CUA Theology Club have also spoken out, with vice president Aisling Finnegan condemning the racist act.

“We here at the Theology Club firmly believe that such actions were not only incredibly hateful but go against the teachings enshrined in the bible to teach others as you want to be treated, to love one another as your self, and to remember that this love is kind,” she wrote to club members on Tuesday.

“At the beginning of this year, I along with our incredible president Andrea [Suarez] pledged to make this club an inclusive home and safe space for everyone. With this condemnation, we stand by our word and pledge our support to all those who were affected.”

President Kilpatrick announced late Friday morning that the perpetrators were identified as local juveniles, all of whom have since been barred from campus and suspended from their high school. He also acknowledged an earlier incident of racist hate messages left in a different dorm on November 1.

The BSA organization held an open forum meeting on Thursday evening, intended to be a “safe space for Black students and those who have been impacted” by Monday’s discovery.

“What happened is abhorrent and against our core fundamental beliefs. We want to let you know that we are here for you in any way,” the organization posted on social media.

Monday’s discovery was at least the second such incident in the dorm since 2017, when racist slurs were found in the Flather Hall elevator. The university was also rocked by a similar scandal in 2021, when a university-sponsored icon of a Black Jesus—styled after the murdered George Floyd—was stolen twice after its installation at the Columbus School of Law.

The university, then under the leadership of President John H. Garvey, refused to replace the image a second time and did not publicly announce any further developments in the criminal investigation.

On Wednesday this week, the university announced that an unidentified man was arrested at Flather Hall, where he was found intruding in a changing area. Campus police apprehended the man, who they also said was not a CUA student, after residents encountered him in a common area. 

He was reportedly turned over to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and charged with unlawful entry into a building, according to the university.

A CUA representative told BCM that the intrusion was “a separate incident” from Monday’s.

Prior to Friday's update from President Kilpatrick, students expressed dismay at the school’s response to the incidents, which occurred among a student population that is overwhelmingly White and majority female. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which administers the university, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I’m personally disappointed in the university with their response, so it’s been incredibly disheartening,” Finnegan said.

“Two back-to-back incidents have created a big problem on campus, and growing frustrations and anger.”

In light of the arrest on Wednesday, CUA’s Department of Public Safety is increasing its patrols at dorms on campus, and a 24-hour presence will be established temporarily at Flather Hall.

Update (11/10): Added new information released by the university.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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