By Marcus White
Posters from the white supremacy group, American Renaissance, were found in campus buildings Wednesday. The posters were discovered in high-traffic areas of the Yellowjacket Union, Swenson Hall and the Holden Fine Arts Center.
Campus administrators were quick to react following several reports by students that posters containing messages and imagery appeared to promote a white supremacy agenda. In an all-campus email Friday, Chancellor Renee Wachter said that campus officials had walked through buildings at UWS finding and removing any additional posters. She noted that the walk-through of buildings will continue.
Wachter also said that they have been looking through social media and reports of similar incidents in the area and that campus officials had “touched base with the local Superior Police Department.”
Jerel Benton, the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said that it does not appear that posters came from someone on campus, but from the wider community.
Emily Van Alstyne, a student at UWS, said that despite what may have been printed on the posters, she feels safe in Superior, “I am aware that even though people say incorrect things, we have a campus that took the time to acknowledge that these things are happening,” Van Alstyne said.
In a statement emailed to the Promethean, Jacob Farmer, president of the Student Government Association, said, “Here at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, the Student Government Association has and will always be proponents of supporting diversity and inclusion. Perspectives from all students across the campus is what has made the University of Wisconsin-Superior the best public institution in the state of Wisconsin and we as representatives of the student body will always be in favor of diversity and inclusion.”
Since the beginning of the school year, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Alabama has been following an increase in reporting of hate speech and postering incidents on campuses across the country.
“During the (2016) presidential campaign, the racialized rhetoric did a lot to mobilize the far right and white nationalist groups,” said Lecia Brooks, Outreach Director for the SPLC, in a telephone conversation Friday. “They feel that they have a representative in the White House.”
Brooks says that the number of campus incident reports is unprecedented. She said that usually in a year there are isolated incidents across the country, but this year there has been widespread activity in “every region.”
American Renaissance, which is based in the State of Virgina does not view itself as a white supremacy group. “We are race realists. ‘White supremacy’ implies a belief in the superiority of whites relative to other races, or a desire for whites to rule over other races,” said Henry Wolff, assistant editor for American Renaissance. “We hold neither of these views.”
Wolff said in an email to the Promethean that American Renaissance encourages students to hang posters around college campuses. “College campuses have become hostile places for white students,” he said. “From “affirmative action” admissions policies to mandatory “diversity” seminars—which are often naked anti-white indoctrination—and so on, white students are discriminated against and slighted from even before they step on campus.”
“It normalizes the premise of white supremacy,” countered Brooks. “It has a targeted population (non-white students)…increasing their anxiety about being on campus.”
American Renaissance on their website has a guide for students to aid them in placing posters around campuses, as well as a promotional video that advises white people to “take back their homelands” of Europe and America.
“Intellectually, they think that they have established this place (America) as their homeland,” said Brooks. “They feel that because of the shifting demographics, they are going to dispossessed.”
Brooks notes that hate speech is protected by law, and generally the only recourse a campus has to take the posters down legally is to employ poster policies that consider non-student poster hangings to be vandalism.
“This needs to be taken seriously.” said history professor Joel Sipress. Sipress added that issues have always existed with white supremacy groups, and we need to know who they are and learn about them. He said this isn’t a modern problem and extends back into the country’s history.
According to Benton, the campus does not currently have any leads as to who may have posted the material, though they suspect it was not from within the campus. “As a campus community we have to find resolve in uphold our campus values,” he said, “respecting one another and our differences, and continue our work towards a maintaining an inclusive environment where students, faculty and staff feel safe.”
Campus administrators are expected to provide updates. People with questions regarding policies as they relate to speech are encouraged to visit the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion office in Old Main.
Elizabeth McMahon contributed to this story.