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Politics

In Iowa, Latino college students shaken up by racist incident

Chelsi Barraza, 19, came back to her Drake University dorm Sunday night to find it covered in sexist, xenophobic and pro-Trump messages.
8 Nov 2016 – 1:13 PM EST

Mexican American political science student Chelsi Barraza, 19, came home to an unpleasant surprise at her Drake University dorm in Des Moines, Iowa, late Sunday night. Her dorm room door was covered in pro-Trump messages, as well as sexist and xenophobic rhetoric such as "Women are unfit to be president" and "Make a wall."

It's the third time this has happened to Barraza, a vocal Hillary Clinton supporter, though the previous two times her roommates removed the offending messages before she got home. Univision received the tip about the incident through the Whatsapp hotline for Electionland, a coalition of media outlets to track voting problems.

"As soon as I saw it I had a panic attack because I could not believe that someone could come and do this to me," Barraza wrote on Facebook. "I am proud to be a woman and I am proud to be Hispanic."

She told Univision that the incident shook her up. "I started to tremble, I was struggling to breathe and I started to cry," she said. She's part of student group Fuerza Latina, whose members immediately came to console her.

One of Barraza's friends, Kenia Alejandra Calderón, 23, was the one who originally posted an image of Barraza's door on Facebook, which was shared over 700 times. "We demand that college campuses stop being so tolerant to hate speech," she wrote.

During this election season, several other Iowa universities and high schools have had incidents of students saying things like "Build the wall” and "Make a wall” directed toward Latino students, the Des Moines Register reported.

"The University is aware of and is investigating this incident," said Jarad Bernstein, a Drake University spokesperson. "Intimidation and harassment of any member of the Drake community will not be tolerated."

Bernstein later said in an email that four students admitted responsibility for the incident and have already moved out of the residence hall. "We are charging each student with serious violations of the Drake Code of Student Conduct, and each student faces disciplinary actions," he added.

In response to the door incident, several student groups put up banners on the campus multicultural houses on Monday night with messages encouraging people to vote against hate, Calderón said.

Chelsi's mother Judith Barraza, a Mexican immigrant who's lived in the U.S. for two decades, is worried about her daughter. "She's afraid they're going to do something to her ... I've never heard her the way she's been for the last few days."

Barraza already cast her ballot, so the incident didn't affect her vote.

David Becker, executive director and co-founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, said the incident wouldn't be a case of voter intimidation but could potentially be a legal problem, such as trespassing. "It's obviously a human decency problem," he added.

Calderón says it's not the first time there have been racist incidents on campus, though they're not common. "We've had messages like these before chalked on the pavement things like 'Build the wall, deport them all,'" she said.

But this time was different. "It really hit us hard," she said of members of Fuerza Latina, which she founded. "Many of us weren't able to attend any of our classes."

Barraza, who was excused from classes after the incident, says students sent her messages and apologized for what had happened. "Instead of hatred, this has generated love," she said.

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