About 300 students attended a forum that the North Carolina State University chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held Tuesday evening to get feedback from students on their opinions regarding the hate speech in the Free Expression Tunnel and whether or not the students who wrote the statements should receive punishment.
"Isn't it strange that you can get suspended for plagiarism but not for hate speech?" Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said. "You can get suspended if someone catches you copying out of a book or if a professor catches your eyes wondering during an exam, but we have to have a huge debate about hate speech."
The students, whose names have not been released, wrote racist remarks and made threats towards President-elect Barack Obama. The Secret Service, which conducted an investigation into the threats made by the four students, determined that the students did not issue a credible threat.
The Wake County D.A.'s office also determined no federal or state law was broken, and criminal charges could not be brought against the students. Now the University is looking into whether or not the four students broke any rules in the Student Code of Conduct.
"This University is faced with a very important and difficult issue," Tom Stafford, vice chancellor for Student Affairs, said. "I feel the anger and hurt that everyone feels tonight. A very horrible thing has happened that is contrary to the values that we believe in at N.C. State."
Barber is pushing for strong punishment for the four students. While the D.A.'s office has determined no criminal law was broken, the NAACP's lawyers are looking at the information to see if they can reverse the ruling.
"Hate speech is not free speech," Barber said. "It's not graffiti. It's not something you just tolerate or ignore. You punish it."
Barber said he believes that students should be held to the same standards as the rest of the nation.
"Hate crimes used to equal a demeanor, less than a parking ticket. It's now a felony. It's happening in too many places around the country, and in this state and on college campuses and it's time for this to cease," he said.
Several students, including Jessica Couch, a sophomore in textile and apparel management, said they want criminal charges brought against the students so students can know who they are.
"I feel these are acts of terrorism and these students should be humiliated," Couch said. "I want to know if I'm walking down the street next to these people or sitting next to them in class. These students should be made an example of."
Barber said officials are not looking closely enough at the context of the messages written in the Free Expression Tunnel.
"Some people say words don't hurt. Words can do a lot of damage. Words can start wars. Please stop calling this graffiti. It's graphic, it's racists, it's ugly, it's hate but it is not graffiti."
He also said things should not be allowed in the Freedom Expression Tunnel if it's going to affect students.
"Someone tried to tell me that it is the Free Expression Tunnel and that someone can say whatever they want," Barber said. "Well who pays for that tunnel? Your parents tax dollars, my tax dollars and your tuition money. That's your property. That's your tunnel."
Student Senate President Greg Doucette said he hopes people come together and stay together on issues regarding hate crimes.
"Part of the reason why white people don't feel as strongly about problems such as this is because the black community only comes together when these issues come up," he said. "You need to e engaged throughout the year. You need to be engaged on days other than when something like this happens."
Barber said the number of students who come out to protest the issue shouldn't matter.
"Something that is wrong is just wrong, it doesn't matter how many people stand up against it," he said.