By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Oberlin College, one of the first schools to integrate black and white students, suspended classes for the day on Monday after a report that a person wearing a hood and robe resembling a Ku Klux Klan costume was seen on campus.
The suspension came as Oberlin was to begin a planned Peace Week in response to homophobic, and racially and religiously insensitive vandalism that has plagued the highly ranked Ohio liberal arts college over the past month.
Classes and non-essential activities were suspended at the school to allow students to gather for discussions about issues faced by the Oberlin community in recent weeks, the school said in a message posted on its website.
"During the last several weeks, incidents of hate speech have appeared on campus including racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic defacing of posters that were advertising events and programming," Oberlin President Marvin Krislov and Dean of Students Eric Estes said in a letter to parents on Monday.
Oberlin, a private college with about 3,000 students, provided co-education for men and women from its inception in 1833, and was one of the first to integrate black and white students, regularly admitting students of color from 1835.
The school's letter to parents said offensive postings had also appeared via untraceable accounts on popular social media sites.
Oberlin College security and Oberlin, Ohio, police were investigating the report of a person dressed in a KKK costume near its Afrikan Heritage House, a campus residence hall, the college said.
"We don't know what is or what is not connected, but the incidents of hate speech have been going on for a little while now with the defacing of posters and that has brought us to this point," Oberlin spokesman Scott Wargo said.
Wargo said Oberlin officials have no idea who or how many people were behind the hate speech, but he said the school is working with local law enforcement to end it.
"We know this is something that happens in the rest of the world and we are in the world. We are not immune to it. But it is absolutely against Oberlin values," Wargo said.
(Editing by David Bailey, Cynthia Johnston and Steve Orlofsky)