Wake Forest Responds To Threatening Emails

Following the Sept. 17 notification that several individual faculty and office email inboxes had received threatening emails, President Nathan Hatch, among others, sent out an email on Sept. 19 in response. 

“We hear the questions posed by some of our students: can you see us, can you hear us, do you understand our lived experiences? Yes, we see you. Yes, we hear you. And, no, we cannot fully understand what some of you are enduring,” the email said. 

The other administrators who signed the response include Rogan Kersh, provost; Jane Aiken, dean of the School of Law; Michele Gillespie, dean of the College; Charles Iacovou, dean of the School of Business; Penny Rue, vice president for Campus Life; José Villalba, vice president for Diversity and Inclusion and chief diversity officer; and Jonathan Walton, dean of the School of Divinity. 

On Tuesday, Sept. 17, the Wake Forest campus community was notified that several faculty and staff members received threatening emails from an unknown source on Sept. 10 and 11. The emails were sent to individual and offices inboxes associated with two academic departments — the Department of Sociology and the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies — and three offices on campus — the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the  LGBTQ Center and the Intercultural Center. 

The day before students were notified of the emails and the investigation, Gillespie also sent out an email to all college department chairs, addressing the emails, the investigation and safety measures. 

“I observed [in my email to the chairs] that receiving such emails can be traumatizing, and noted at the same time, that a panicked distrustful university community is exactly what these kinds of trolls strive to create,” Gillespie said. 

According to the email response from Sept. 19, seven individual faculty and staff members and five office email accounts received the emails. 

Joseph Soares, chair of the department of sociology, said that the seven individuals who were targeted were a part of the sociology department. 

Last week, the Old Gold & Black had obtained screenshots of an email sent out by Soares to students in the sociology department. In his email, Soares went into further detail of the content of the threatening emails and noted that the sociology department had decided to cancel classes for the rest of the week. However, the rest of the university continued with normal operations and classes, following the advisement from authorities. 

In an interview with the Old Gold & Black, Soares said that classes had resumed and were operating normally this week. He said that the main reason that classes had been cancelled following the notification of the emails to students was that he was not informed of the total number of people affected in his office until Sunday, Sept. 15, and did not know the content of the email until Tuesday, Sept. 17. 

“Once we realized the scale and scope of things, we were very alarmed that we hadn’t taken on all of the precautions that we would have wanted to have taken if we had known these facts on Wednesday morning, the 11th of September,” Soares said. “I didn’t want my faculty or students to be put at risk.” 

Soares was not aware of the information regarding who had received the emails and what the content of them were because the emails had been pulled by internet security at Wake Forest, he said. He explained that internet security had been following standard practice and protocol related to spam emails. 

“They didn’t have protocols for how to deal with emails that were threatening particular members of our community, so they were working with a game plan that was not appropriate for the character of the threat we were facing,” Soares said. 

Chief of Police Regina Lawson said that while students were notified of the threatening emails on Sept. 18, faculty and staff had been alerted by University Police a week earlier on Sept. 11.

“We have consulted with law enforcement and national threat assessment experts — including the FBI’s leading experts on domestic terrorism, white nationalism and hate crimes,” Lawson said in an email to the Old Gold & Black. “We are working with the Winston-Salem Police, the SBI and the FBI. We are also working with the North Carolina ISAAC (Information Sharing and Analysis Center), [which] works with local agencies to develop actionable intelligence on immediate and emerging threats.” 

Lawson also confirmed that the in