Some students at Weber State are unhappy with the response to stickers and posters representing a white supremacy group appearing around the Ogden campus, including a statement released by President Brad Mortensen Wednesday, a week and a half after the stickers first appeared.
“At Weber State, we vigorously protect free speech and the diversity of ideas,” Mortensen wrote in the statement. “Nonetheless, we call out racist and hateful speech aimed at intimidating and frightening individuals and communities. The rhetoric and tactics used by this group do not align with Weber State University’s core values of access, opportunity and respect.”
“I don’t really know how to feel about the statement,” said JaLisa Lee, president of Black Scholars United, a Weber State student organization. “I just don’t understand why the statement took so long to come out when these stickers were on campus (two weeks ago).”
Allison Hess, the university’s public relations director, said the university did not want to draw additional publicity to the white supremacy group.
Two weeks ago on Saturday, March 30, Weber State received reports of white supremacy stickers being found around campus on buildings, light posts and other campus structures.
The stickers were placed without university approval in areas not designated for flyers, Hess said, and because they caused damage, the university considered them criminal mischief and vandalism.
According to Hess, the university acted immediately to remove the materials. Some faculty, staff and students who saw them also removed some stickers before notifying campus police.
The stickers that had been placed over the weekend of March 30–31 were all removed before classes began again on Monday, April 1, Hess said. Since the stickers first appeared, Hess said the university’s facilities management has swept the campus four times to find any remaining stickers or other materials.
On Monday, April 1, Hess said that a message was sent to group leaders and offices on campus that work most directly with students who would have special concerns about the stickers, including Black Scholars United.
The message invited students to share their concerns about campus safety on white boards in the student union, which were available for several hours on Tuesday, April 2. The university’s chief diversity officer, Adrienne Andrews, collected this information and held a follow-up conversation the following Thursday, April 4.
Hess said that an invitation to contribute to the whiteboards and participate in the follow-up conversation was also included in an email called “announcements,” that is sent out once a day, and is the primary way the university communicates with the campus community.
The message also “let them know that we were aware, that there are resources if they felt unsafe, that they should talk to their advisors, that we were very concerned,” said Hess.
Advisors passed this message along to student leaders, Hess said, who shared the information with their peers.
“We know that peers talking to peers are the ones that are the most listened to,” Hess said.
Lee said she found out Monday, April 1, but that many students did not know what was happening. She said the communication process wasn’t clear.
Because she is the president of Black Scholars United, Lee said, “Obviously, I know about things like this, but any other student who’s not involved on campus, they might not know anything about this.”
She said not all students recognized the stickers as representing white supremacy, and that it’s important for students to learn of white supremacy activity on campus from university officials directly rather than from other students or a professor.
Lee said last year, when racist flyers were found on campus, she found out from a professor about the flyers a few days later. This was before Mortensen became president of the university.
“I have the right to know what’s happening at my institution so I can feel safe on campus,” Lee said. “If I don’t feel safe at an institution, I’m not about to show up. I’m not going to go that school.”
Lee said she would have preferred that a statement had been made within a day or two of stickers first being found on campus.
Shawnica Sanders, a member of Black Scholars United and part of a group of students starting a NAACP college chapter, said that she also wanted faster and clearer communication.
Sanders said received an email forwarded to her by one of her advisors, but she didn’t know about the opportunity to share concerns on the white boards.
She said Andrews told the group that the invitation had been included in a bulletin, but Sanders said she had never heard of or checked the bulletin Andrews mentioned. Sanders did attend the follow-up conversation Thursday.
Sanders said she also wanted more of a commitment to action in the president’s statement.
She would have liked the statement to let students know what to do when something like this happens, ‘whether that’s more people that you can talk to,’ or including instructions so students know what to do when they see materials like this on campus.
She also wanted a greater commitment to diversity and multiculturalism on campus.
“On the whole, Weber State is not a bad school, but I do think that they are not representing diversity and inclusion and multiculturalism like they say they will. They are not upholding their standards.”
Breauna Mack, a member of Northern Utah Black Lives matter who is not part of Black Scholars United, was one of the students who learned about the stickers after the fact in a Facebook group.
She said the statement “felt quick and not thought-out” and it “could have been stronger.”
“I hated that he put the Martin Luther King quote in there,” Mack said. “The quote was ‘hate doesn’t drive out hate, only love does’ ... and it felt condescending because we’re not asking for a message of hate, nobody was looking for him to say ‘we hate these hate groups, we’re gonna fight them,’ we just wanted something more articulate.”
Jaden Priest, president of the Weber State Democrats, shared different concerns about the quote.
“I think the purpose of the quote (from President Mortensen) is to kind of justify not taking a stronger stance against the (white supremacy) organization,” Priest said. “Qualifying a statement from one of the main historical organizers against white supremacy and quoting that to take less of a strong stance against white supremacy is not something that I think had very much thought put into it, and I think it was a little superficial.”
Stickers have continued to appear on campus. Lee said she saw one as recently as Wednesday, April 10, the same day Mortensen’s statement was released.
Mortensen’s statement says that “teams will continue monitoring our campuses to eliminate all inappropriately posted items and, most importantly, maintain the welcoming and safe environment our entire diverse community deserves.”