The freshman students were added to a "repugnant" account on the popular messaging app GroupMe that contained "violent, racist and thoroughly disgusting images and messages," according to a joint statement released today by University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann, Provost Vincent Price and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli. Security has been increased on campus as a result, officials said.
The GroupMe account appears to have based in Oklahoma, school officials said, adding that they are taking steps find the people responsible for the account as well as address the impact it has had on black students.
"This is absolutely vile material and completely offensive to everyone on our campus," the statement read. "We are both angry and saddened that it was directed to our students or to anyone."
Officials said they will "take every step possible" to counteract the "appalling bias" represented by the GroupMe account.
"We must reiterate how absolutely essential it is to the core values of our community, and also to the well-being of our society and world, that all persons be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve," the statement said. "... And we all stand together in solidarity with our [b]lack students who have been so terribly targeted."
In a statement, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney condemned the incident and urged the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to investigate and "hold all responsible parties accountable for this disgusting behavior."
"Everyone is welcome in Philadelphia regardless of whether they are a freshman at one of our universities or if they've always called Philadelphia home," Kenney said. "It is heartbreaking to see this type of activity here in the birthplace of our democracy and the city of brotherly love."
New York University also issued a statement today after a door to a room used for prayer by its Muslim community was found defaced on Wednesday morning.
"Our university is extremely diverse, and ensuring that every last person feels welcome and safe is essential to our principles and our mission," NYU said in the statement. "The dean has written to the school to reiterate our expectations for tolerance, civility, and respect."