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Weber State students decry racist signage, criticize university response

By Tim Vandenack - | Nov 4, 2021
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Raha Davis, a Weber State student, is pictured at a sit-in protest inside Shepherd Union on the campus on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. Some students are decrying the university administration's delay in getting word out that signs linked to the white nationalist movement had been found on the campus.
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Terri Hughes, a Weber State student, is pictured outside a gathering at Shepherd Union on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. The gathering was held to address her and other students' criticism about the university administration's delay in getting word out about white supremacist language found on the campus.
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Weber State President Brad Mortensen speaks to a gathering in the Shepherd Union on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, to address some students' concerns about white supremacist signage found on the campus. Some are decrying the administration's delay in getting word out about the matter. Adrienne Andrews, the school's chief diversity officer, stands to Mortensen's right.
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Raha Davis, a Weber State student, participates in a sit-in protest inside Shepherd Union on the campus on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. Some students are decrying the university administration's delay in getting word out that signs linked to the white nationalist movement had been found on the campus.
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Students participate in a sit-in protest inside Shepherd Union on the Weber State campus on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. Some students are decrying the university administration's delay in getting word out that signs linked to the white nationalist movement had been found on the campus.

OGDEN -- The reappearance of signage this week on the Weber State campus linked to the white supremacist movement is prompting an uproar among the school's small African American population and others.

A handful staged a silent sit-in protest in the Shepherd Union on Thursday, decrying the signage and the university administration's delay in getting word out that the signs had been posted. Around 60 students and others, including Weber State President Brad Mortensen, met Thursday afternoon to discuss the matter inside the student union building, sometimes in heated tones.

"At the end of the day, we're angry because no one told us," said Terri Hughes, a Weber State student and head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter at the school.

The clandestinely placed signs -- reading "It's okay to be white" -- suggest a threat from whoever placed them. Had the schools' students of color known about them, they would have known to put up their guard in response, Hughes said.

"We are upset because our safety was not taken into account," she said.

Beyond the university response, the turn of events seems to underscore worries among some students of color about their place at Weber State. A vocal contingent in Weber State's African American community has been loudly banging the drum since at least 2020 about what they see as the university's inattention to their concerns about racism and campus safety.

"They should have let us know. We have already said we don't have a safe space on the campus," said Raha Davis, a Weber State student. She was sitting with a handful of students in the middle of Shepherd Union as part of the protest, signs around the small group reading "Is Weber safe?", "Black students are NOT safe" and more.

Hughes lamented the lack of a direct, strong statement from the university in light of the signage. "The issue is, they never put out a statement saying this is not OK," Hughes said.

In addressing the gathering in the student union, Mortensen expressed sympathy. In other meetings, he and other school officials have indicated their support for students of color and a willingness to take action to address their concerns.

"I always show up and I try to listen," Mortensen said. "There's a lot of work to be done and I don't want to deny it."

The signs in question were discovered and removed by university personnel early Monday morning. Students learned of them Wednesday evening from an anonymous tipster, according to Davis and Hughes.

One sign was placed at the north entry of Shepherd Union and another was placed at the south end of the building, said Dane LeBlanc, director of public safety for the university. A message in duct tape, also reading "It's okay to be white," was placed elsewhere on the outside of the building.

Campus security cameras captured footage of the person who placed the messages. He or she was wearing a hoodie and a face covering, though, and officials couldn't identify the person.

"If we could get any additional leads on it, we'd be all over it," said LeBlanc, who was at the meeting involving the students, Mortensen and other university officials. He said university police will be carrying out additional patrols around the campus as a precaution.

The latest incident is at least the third time since 2017 that material linked to the white nationalist movement has been clandestinely placed around the Weber State campus. Around a dozen white nationalist posters were placed around the campus in August 2017 while fliers and stickers depicting the logo of a white nationalist group were scattered around the campus in March 2019, according to the Signpost, the campus newspaper.

The "It's okay to be white" message has been adopted by white supremacist groups, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The "ostensibly innocuous and inoffensive" phrase, the ADL said, is meant to provoke reaction from liberals, making it seem they "did not even think it was 'okay' to be white," thus casting them as intolerant.

"Whether the original trollers were white supremacist or not, actual white supremacists quickly began to promote the campaign -- often adding Internet links to white supremacist websites to the fliers or combining the phrase with white supremacist language or imagery," the ADL said.

Davis said the protest in the student union atrium will continue.

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