White nationalist posters taken down at Weber State as school year starts

Monday , August 28, 2017 - 2:07 PM1 comment

ANNA BURLESON, Standard-Examiner Staff

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to reflect the correct spelling of Lorcan Murphy’s name.

OGDEN — About a dozen white nationalist posters discovered on Weber State University’s campus over the weekend have been taken down.

The posters, which included racist and anti-semitic comments, were removed because they were either taped over existing posters or onto glass, which violates school policy, spokeswoman Allison Barlow Hess said Monday, Aug. 28.

Hess said the school had to act within their policy prohibiting interferences with freedom of speech.

“It’s fair to say we’re going to look at our policies, but we definitely value free speech and robust dialogue,” Hess said. “But we want to make sure that people feel safe on our campus.”

The posters were initially discovered Sunday, Aug. 27, the day before the fall semester started. All of those removed violated the poster placement policy mentioned above, Hess said.

“There was not a broad sweep of campus by say, the police, going around making sure they were all taken down,” she said. “It’s about a balance between free speech and a safe campus.”

Weber State student Kylie Toponce said she saw the posters up at the school’s bus stops Sunday. She went around to several of the stops, removing the posters as she went.

“I was furious … how is this happening at my school?” she said.

The posters varied. One depicted a man in shackles with the words “white guilt” underneath and a link to a white nationalist website. Another said “Hey, WHITE PERSON,” followed by several racist and anti-semitic comments, as well as a QR code to a white nationalist website.

Toponce identifies as white and said she’s glad it was her who found the bulk of the posters. She saw them as a recruitment attempt by hate groups, encouraging students to visit their websites.

“I feel like if a nonwhite person saw that at a bus stop, it’d be pretty detrimental to their mental clarity,” she said. “I’m pretty pissed off about it, but I’m glad it was me who found them.”

University President Charles Wight released a statement Monday afternoon welcoming everyone to the start of the fall semester. He did not explicitly mention the posters but said the most valuable learning comes from having conversations about differences.

“That type of learning isn’t easy,” he wrote. “It means that, beyond including people who share our beliefs, we must broaden our minds to understand beliefs that differ from our own. You might encounter ideas that anger or offend you.”

Wight also condemned messages of hate or bigotry, saying they don’t reflect Weber State’s values.

“Our values reflect the values of a vast majority of our fellow human beings, who are committed to love and understanding,” he wrote. “We must work to keep Weber State the welcoming environment it always has been.”

Chief Diversity Officer Adrienne Andrews said the university has ongoing events and services to give the community a space to talk about race in a safe and respectful way.

“A university is meant to be a market place of ideas, and that mans there will be ideas in conflict,” she said. “I believe there is no role for hate or bigotry, but that being said, we know it exists.”

Andrews said the proper response in this case is to think critically, because for her, being diverse and inclusive means including everyone.

“Is it frustrating? Of course it’s frustrating, but I also recognize we live in very volatile times and it’s clear there are people who feel their interests aren’t being represented or being heard, and that’s really disconcerting for me.”

If a sign violates university policy, it can be removed. Hess said if an individual is unsure or uncomfortable, he or she can contact Andrews or campus police.

The Young Democrats of Utah issued a statement Monday saying some of the white nationalist posters had been put on top of their organization’s posters promoting the screening of a documentary about the abolishment of slavery.

“This is a red flag of the spread of radical white supremacy throughout America, and tragically our own state,” Young Democrats of Utah President Lorcan Murphy said. “We denounce in the strongest possible terms this act of racial hatred, and encourage Weber State University to respond in kind. Hatred like this cannot continue to be covered up by institutions of higher learning. We must face this head on.”

This comes after the Salt Lake Tribune reported at least two racist posters were found at the University of Utah in early August.

The white nationalist group Vanguard Utah confirmed they were associated with the posters found at the University of Utah. An email to the group asking whether that was the case at Weber State had not been answered as of 1:15 p.m. Monday.

Hess said the university doesn’t know which individual or group posted the signs and “the matter is under review.”

University of Utah President David Pershing and other administrators also released a statement Monday addressing the racist posters from weeks ago.

“There is simply no place for violence or hate on this campus,” the statement said. “We condemn all hateful, bigoted, racist, and violent acts and words in the strongest possible terms. Our response to these despicable acts and words will be to call them what they are, and we encourage you, too, to speak up loudly against them.”

Weber State has held six Town Hall Conversations About Race since 2016 and a new series on civility was already planned to happen throughout this school year through the Center for Community Engaged Learning’s Engaged Learning Series.

“This is not a knee-jerk reaction,” Andrews said. “People have been working on events and programming since last spring. There will be many opportunities to talk about civility.”

Andrews said she’s glad her university is looking at this as a teaching moment.

“I think it’s really important for people to know they’re welcome here,” she said. “If somebody doesn’t feel welcome it’s an opportunity to reach out to myself or other areas of campus to share where the possible disconnect is.”

Contact education reporter Anna Burleson at aburleson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnagatorB or like her on Facebook at Facebook.com/BurlesonReports. 

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