Vandals defaced a sign promoting the University of Minnesota's Muslim Students Association, scrawling "ISIS" over a hand-painted mural on the Washington Avenue Bridge, which connects the east and west banks of the Twin Cities campus.
The graffiti was discovered early Thursday morning and documented on social media, prompting the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to call for a hate crime investigation.
Jaylani Hussein, CAIR's executive director, said the vandalism is among a number of recent actions targeting Minnesota Muslims.
"University administrators and state religious and political leaders must speak out forcefully against the rising anti-Muslim hate in our society that results in such disturbing incidents," he said.
The Muslim Student Association demanded swift action from the university, condemning the crime and "all bigoted rhetoric affecting Muslims and other minority students."
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler's office released a statement Thursday afternoon calling the graffiti an abhorrent action "that will not be tolerated on our campus."
Amera Hassan, of the Muslim Student Association, said the message is a form of "hate speech," that falsely associates Muslims with terrorist organizations. At the MSA's request, the sign was painted over in solid white Thursday afternoon.
"This is hurting the Muslim community and Muslim students on campus, causing Muslim students to feel unsafe and unwelcome," Hassan, a sophomore neuroscience major, said in a statement.
A recent Star Tribune analysis found that hate crimes against Muslims in Minnesota are rising, even as other hate crime categories appear to be on the decline.
While overall hate crimes reported by Minnesota law enforcement agencies have dropped by 25 percent since 2010, crimes against Muslims continued an upward trend, rising from 2 to 11 in that same period, according to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). In addition, the BCA reported eight crimes against people identified as Arab or perceived as Arab — a new category — last year.
The MSA's three-panel mural was created during the school's annual Paint the Bridge event last month, where hundreds of student groups make colorful displays for the busy pedestrian bridge. Controversy emerged within hours of the event after a painting by the Minnesota College Republicans depicting one of Donald Trump's 2016 campaign slogans — "Build the Wall" — and a symbolic brick wall drew ire from fellow students.
A vandal who appeared to take issue with the message obscured the mural with spray paint, writing "Stop White Supremacy" in large gold letters. University President Eric Kaler, while acknowledging that some found the message offensive, condemned the graffiti and reminded students that Trump's message was protected speech.
Administrators and university police met with students regarding another issue on Wednesday, involving posters attacking members of the group Students for Justice in Palestine.
"Such hateful speech runs counter to the values of our institution, which must include a climate that encourages the thoughtful and respectful exchange of ideas. We can disagree on issues, but cannot accept targeted hate," Kaler said in the statement.
"When our students are targeted and made to feel fearful, we as a community suffer," he said.
Al-Madinah Cultural Center plans to hold a gathering for those affected Friday in Coffman Union. Both incidents come just two weeks after MSA members held a forum to combat Islamophobia.
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648