University of Southern Maine police are investigating a possible hate crime after graffiti was found in the student government offices, officials said Thursday.
A student who is known to at least one student senator wrote the Latin phrase “Deus Vult” or “God Wills It” on a desk and a wall, according to student leaders.
The phrase was used as a rallying cry for Christians during the Crusades in medieval times, and more recently has been adopted by the alt-right political movement as an anti-Muslim insult.
In an email to the campus community, USM President Glenn Cummings condemned the “anti-Muslim graffiti” found in the office in the Woodbury Campus Center.
“I want you to know that addressing this is our highest priority. Our campus security is fully investigating what we believe to be a hate crime,” Cummings wrote. “A team from our Dean of Students is working hard to uncover the facts while providing opportunities for intergroup dialogue and supporting students directly and indirectly affected by this reprehensible act. Mostly, to our Muslim students I want to express how sorry I am this has happened. Please know that such actions affect all of us. This is not who USM is or wants to be.”
USM spokesman Bob Stein said the campus police report will be sent to the Maine Attorney General’s Office for review.
According to USM’s student body president, Muhammad “Humza” Khan, a male student who is not part of student government drew the graffiti Tuesday afternoon, while two student Senate members were in the office. Khan, who declined to identify the student because of the investigation, said the two witnesses have said they didn’t understand the meaning of the phrase – which was written in small letters on an electrical wire cover on a wall, and on a wooden desk.
USM officials also have not released the student’s name.
In a Facebook post, USM student body Vice President Matt Raymond condemned the graffiti.
“I just wanted to say that all this happened a day after five Muslim/ (people of color) students asked for applications to Student Government to become Senators. I believe this act of criminal intimidation to be linked to that fact,” Raymond wrote, adding that student government is open to all students of any race, gender, religion, sexuality, economic background or nationality. “(Student Body President) Humza Khan, myself, and our Cabinet under the Executive branch condemn in the harshest terms this crime of bias and intimidation. Let’s show folks that USM is a diverse and inclusive university for all moving forward!”
A group of about 40 students rallied in support of Muslim students at lunchtime Thursday. Raymond said he plans to ask the student Senate to vote out two members who he believes did not respond appropriately to the incident.
Raymond said one of the targeted senators wanted to clean up the graffiti and not report it, and the other senator was mocking the incident and criticizing Islam.
Khan said he believes the person who wrote the graffiti intended to intimidate Muslim students who have expressed interest in joining the student Senate.
“The way Muslims see (that Latin phrase,) we see it indirectly as ‘Let’s kill Muslims,’ ” said Khan, who is Muslim.
“It’s not immediately seen as racist, it’s not a racial epithet, but it’s still there to intimidate a specific group of people,” Raymond said. “And it served its purpose, even though it was coded language.”
In October, two mosques in Fort Smith, Arkansas, were defaced with graffiti, including swastikas, and the words “go home” and “deus vult” spray-painted on their windows, walls and signs, according to KFSM television station. The FBI is investigating those incidents and seeking suspects.
Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at: