The Flat Hat Investigates: Hate Speech On Campus

If you’re a college student in America,
you’ve probably seen or heard about some form of hate speech, whether it’s posters,
graffiti, flyers, or even marches on campus grounds, we all know that racism,
homophobia, and anti-semitism are out there. Today, the Flat Hat is taking a
look at this hate speech: why it’s here, who’s behind it, and how it has affected
members of our community here at William and Mary. Hi, my name is Claire Hogan, I’m an online editor here at the Flat Hat. My name is Gavin Aquin, I’m the sports
editor at the Flat Hat. I wrote the article about the anti-semitic and
anti-LGBTQ posters that were put up around campus. On Friday, February 22nd, letters
were posted in academic buildings on the sunken garden and the Sadler Center at
the College of William and Mary expressing homophobic, anti-semitic, and
white nationalist language. The letter started by asking God to forgive men for
their hedonist and sinful nature while simultaneously asking for revenge
against Jewish and LGBTQ communities. WMPD responded to reports that the letter was posted in three places on campus: Earl Gregg Swem library, Sadler Center and Tucker Hall. Clavet said that WMPD officers removed the letters, as they
violated campus posting policy. Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger
Ambler affirmed the administration’s commitment to responding to student
complains regarding posters and said that they violated the university’s posting
policies and they were promptly removed. Jewish students became alarmed
after reading the letters. Rabbi Gershon Litt, director of Hillel, the College’s
official Jewish spiritual organization, commented on the incident when Gavin
performed his initial investigation and had this to add when we reached out for
further comment: “My name is Rabbi Gerson Litt, and I’m the director of Hillel at
William and Mary. I’ve been asked to say a few words about the recent hate posters
that have been put around campus. To the people that put them up, I want to say one thing: you are very irrelevant. You’re
irrelevant because you are uneducated, and what we need to do as a community is educate each other about who our unique groups are so that we can function as one community. That’s the solution: to function as one but yet have individuality. If we
can do that, then we’ll be fighting these words of hate, statements of hate,
posters of hate, and doing so with respect and dignity because people who
are so insecure then they will put up statements, they’ll put up posters like
this simply do not know who they are. We need to know who we are. At William and Mary we are one community. In the Jewish community, we have to know what we
represent, and every community does as well. We hope that this is the end of all of
this type of hate, whether it’s in print or whether it’s verbal.” The
College’s political communities also came out together in support of the
marginalized communities targeted. Faisal Alami, a co-chair of the Young
Democratic Socialists of William and Mary, had this to add about the most
recent flyer incident: “We at the Young Democratic Socialists are absolutely
disgusted at the recent fascist flyers and the far-right activity that has been
occurring this semester and throughout the past year and even before then. I’m
also very, very outraged at the administration’s lack of concerted
action against this fascist activity and the rise of this propaganda that we are
seeing across campus. Instead of having any sort of official response whatsoever,
it was only when the administration were approached by the Flat Hat that they
made any response whatsoever, and even in that response, they chose to complain
more about posting violations than they did about campus safety. And even then,
they said that they found no sign of criminal activity, which is ludicrous
when inciting violence against protected groups, be it gender minorities, racial
minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, is a criminal act in and of itself.” The
identity of the individual who created letters has not been revealed. We reached
out to the Young Democratic Socialists because, on March 14th, they made a
Facebook post to make the campus aware of more white supremacist imagery placed
around campus. Their post shows an image of the logo for the White Patriot Front
printed out on a lamppost on the trails. Their post also condemned the
beliefs of that group and others like it and provided information about campus
escort and counseling services for students who may be concerned for their
safety. Alami had this to add about the more recent incident: “So this flyer
has the logo of a group called the Patriot Front. It is a white supremacist
group that calls explicitly for the creation of a white ethno state in the
U.S. All it took was a reverse google image search to find that it was a logo of
the Patriot Front. We decided to take down these flyers whenever we could find
them because they absolutely have no place on this campus whatsoever. We felt
obligated to, of course, post about these developments because no one else will,
and at the end of the day, people should know that these prejudiced, hateful
people are around on campus and are organizing and pose a threat, and that
groups like us will not stand for it at the end of the day.” This is not the only
incident that has occurred at William and Mary. In the past few years, there
have been several instances of controversial flyers posted on campus
discussing issues such as the wage gap and immigration. VOX, the organization for reproductive rights on campus, made several Facebook posts at the time
condemning these flyers. We reached out to VOX about their previous statements.
They had this to say: “Concerning the posters found during the 2017-2018
school year, W&M Vox stands with other campus organizations in condemning
these acts of hate. They were meant to spread lies rooted in sexism, such as
that the wage gap is a myth perpetuated by feminists. They meant to sow hate
among students by criticizing the policy of affirmative action. Finally, they directly endangered the lives of students of color, especially
Latinx students, by encouraging reporting to ICE. Although these posters
have not reappeared on campus, other equally hateful ones have, meaning our
administration has and is not doing enough to counter these acts. We stand
with all students meant to feel threatened by these posters, and we will
continue to help drive hate and bigotry out of our campus community.” Going back even further, on November 15th, 2016, Ginger Ambler, the Vice President for
Student Affairs, sent an email about “behaviors that harass, intimidate, or
threaten others” taking place on campus since the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The only specific incident noted in the email was one of graffiti written on a
paper towel dispenser in a hall bathroom in a residence hall. An image of the
graffiti, which included the words “go Trump” with a swastika substituted for
the T, has been widely circulated on social media. At the time of the email, no
students had come forward to claim responsibility or motive, and there were
no further emails about the matter to the student body. In the past, William and Mary has sent out these student-wide emails about cases of hateful speech found on
campus. However, in this instance, no message was sent. We reached out to Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler for further commentary on William
and Mary’s position on the flyers and the decision not to notify students
about the event. She had this to say: “There are times when the nature of an
incident or other factors suggest that a campus-wide message should be sent, and in most cases I would be the person to send notices to the campus community. At other times, like the most recent case of offensive flyers being found on campus
in violation of our posting policy, we might determine that sending a
campus-wide message is not the best course of action. In that particular case,
law enforcement guidance was that our community would actually be safer if we
did not amplify the message of the flyers by sending an email about them to
everyone at William and Mary.” Here at the Flat Hat, we reached out to the William
and Mary Police Department several times for this story. Eventually, they referred
us to Suzanne Clavet, who give us this message from Major Don Butler at WMPD. He said: “The safety of the William and Mary community is our top priority.
The flyers you referenced were reported to WMPD. We found no criminal activity.
If anyone has additional information, we certainly ask them to please contact
the university through WMPD at 757-221-4596. This kind of incident has happened at many schools over the course of the
past three years. In a recent analysis, BuzzFeed News found instances of hate
speech at over 120 campuses across the United States since
the 2016 election. Here in Virginia, we’ve had our fair share. There
have been white supremacist stickers at JMU, KKK flyers at Washington and Lee.
and, of course, the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. At William and Mary,
we’ve had a few incidents of our own. In light of these incidents, the Young
Democratic Socialists of William and Mary and Queer and Present Danger, a
student-led activism group, have both put out petitions condemning fascism and
expressing support for minority students. I’m Claire Hogan and this has been the
Flat Hat.

One Comment

  • Amazing job!

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