The University of Montana removed four signs from campus with statements officials deemed inappropriate and potentially hate speech, according to campus authorities.
"It's just in poor taste and not nice," said Marty Ludemann, UM police chief, on Friday.
One on a kiosk outside Main Hall said the following: "Montana Hunting Season OPEN. Female students the prey."
Another said this: "Get drunk. Get raped. The players are ready."
Yet a third message said this: "You're so blond. You don't think. Don't trust him even if he's a friend. They only want one thing."
The four handwritten signs came down Thursday.
Ludemann said one sign was posted in the University Center, and campus police are reviewing videotape to see if they can identify a culprit. However, he did not know if posting the sign involved any kind of criminal act, and he also believed the message might be protected speech.
"Legally, I would struggle with a free speech issue," Ludemann said.
UM had a rape problem that came to light several years ago and prompted an investigation by federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice. The campus has since taken strides to increase awareness about sexual violence and shore up reporting of rape.
This year, investigative journalist Jon Krakauer published a book about rape in Missoula. The best-selling author said the problem has been prevalent on campuses across the U.S., and he praised the changes UM made.
Peggy Kuhr, vice president of integrated communications for UM, said the signs were distressing but the author's intent wasn't clear.
"The signs ... may be perceived by some as hate speech, or not," Kuhr said in an email. "They could be messages intended to create awareness and start a discussion about sexual assault and safety.
"We do know that the first weeks of the school year are vulnerable weeks for students, especially new female students."
And she said UM takes action to prepare them.
"The university has a lot of training, orientation and messages that go out as the school year begins — to get students talking about safety and bystander intervention," she said.
The university has a harassment response plan so it can investigate activities that could be hate speech, but it's not clear that is what these signs were, Kuhr said.
She said UM's goal is to support anyone affected "without resending hateful messages."
Students begin moving back to campus next week, and school is back in session Aug. 31.