Black Student Charged in Racist Note Scare at College

The 19-year-old hoped an uproar would enable her to change schools, authorities say.

April 27, 2005|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — A black college student was charged with a hate crime Tuesday, accused of sending racist notes to other minority students at Illinois' Trinity International University.

Police said Alicia A. Hardin, 19, admitted Monday that she had written and mailed the three threatening letters to acquaintances because she was unhappy attending the conservative Christian campus.

Investigators said Hardin wanted to transfer to Jackson State University in Mississippi to be closer to friends, but her parents wanted her to remain at Trinity.

Authorities said Hardin told them she planned to use the news of the letters to persuade her parents that Trinity was not a safe place.

Hardin was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and a felony hate crime. If convicted, she could face as much as five years in prison.

"Whatever happened to getting a doctor's note to avoid school, or just saying you don't want to go?" asked George Strickland, chief of the criminal division for the Lake County state attorney's office. "There's got to be an easier way to get out of college than to bring in the FBI."

Neither Hardin nor her parents could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Officials with the Lake County public defender's office, assigned to defend Hardin, declined to discuss the case.

Last week, dozens of minority students asked to be evacuated from campus after school officials told them the three undergraduates -- two blacks and one Latino -- had received letters filled with racial profanity via a campus mail system.

The last letter, handwritten on notebook paper, was sent to a black female student. It made reference to a weapon and threatened her safety, police said.

Prosecutors said the letter included the line: "I saw you in the chapel.... I had my gun in my pocket, but I wouldn't shoot."

The school is in Bannockburn, Ill., an affluent suburb about 30 miles north of Chicago.

Trinity College -- part of the larger university campus that includes, among other things, a seminary -- has about 1,000 undergraduates, about 700 of whom live in brick dorms on the tree-filled campus. About 26% of the undergraduates are minorities.

As news of the threats spread last week, school and law enforcement officials cordoned off the campus, which remained closed to the media and the public Tuesday. FBI and police officials scoured the campus, interviewing faculty and dozens of students.

Trinity officials said students were relieved but shocked to hear of Hardin's arrest. Late Tuesday morning, staff members said, about a dozen white, Latino and black students gathered outside a chapel.

They held hands, bowed their heads and prayed for Hardin.

"We are heartbroken by this revelation because we consider each student a member of our family," school President Greg Waybright said in a statement. "We have heavy hearts. But at the same time, we have a sense of relief because this difficult situation appears to be resolved."

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