White supremacy is one of the darkest and most despicable traditions in America. It permeates wherever it can grow and a recent report shows that it has found a sense of rejuvenation on college campuses.
On June 28, theAnti-Defamation League reported that in the last academic year there has been 292 reported incidents of white supremacy propaganda on college campuses – a 77 percent increase from the previous academic year. The majority of this propaganda includes posters, fliers, banners and stickers that are handed out to students in passing, but many current college students have noted this isn’t anything new, it’s simply gotten worse.
Chelsea Jackson, a student at Iowa State University told Her Campus, “While the white supremacist and white nationalist bullshit around campus predate 2012, white supremacy and nationalist posters have increased since 2016, especially over the last year.”
And if you’re looking for examples of white supremacy on college campuses, the best place to begin is with the recent batch of self-proclaimed white supremacists and white nationalists, who are inviting themselves to speak on college campuses.
Hannah Harshe, a rising junior at the University of Michigan, recounts the turmoil that ensued when Richard Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank, asked to come speak at Michigan.
“He actually requested to come on his own. Because University of Michigan is a public university, we technically couldn't turn him away based on the content of his speech, because that would be in violation of the First Amendment," Harshe said. "The one caveat is that we could turn him away if we could prove that his presence would be a safety risk to our students.”
Spencer ultimately canceled his speech, but his message and his name were still publicized, which Harshe argues was what he wanted all along.
"The one caveat is that we could turn him away if we could prove that his presence would be a safety risk to our students.”
“Michigan State University, our rival, declined his request to speak and he ended up suing them for a lot of money," she said. "So, on his end, it was a win-win. He could speak at a notoriously liberal campus and gain a ton of publicity when riots inevitably ensued, or he could sue the school and make tons of money.”
The fine line between what defines free speech and what defines hate speech has become more and more blurred each day, and it’s increasingly difficult to determine what is allowed and what is not, specifically in a new era where social media is at the forefront. And more and more of young white supremacists are using social platforms as a vehicle to spread their message and reach others who share the same ideologies they do.
— garden girl fighting the good fight (@bossyfern) April 9, 2018
Yasmin Hosseini, a Juris Doctor tells Her Campus, “Under the First Amendment, speech can be regulated in different forums, depending on the content and whether it is a public, designated public, or non-public forum. However, social media was non-existent at the time of the Constitution and therefore falls into a gray area allowing just about anything to be expressed within seconds, without any prior approval.”
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has been another college campus that has not gone unscathed by controversy surrounding debate as to what defines free speech. Last fall a graduate assistant verbally attacked an undergraduate student who was promoting membership to Turning Point USA, a well known non-profit conservative organization. The graduate assistant was later removed from her position but many students and professors argued they both were expressing their right to free speech.
Just months later in February of this year, images of UNL junior biochemistry major Daniel Kleve surfaced, and they showed him beating protestors at last year’s rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Kleve, a member of Vanguard America, later released videos where he stated, “Just because I dress like a normie—a regular person—doesn’t mean I don’t love violence. Trust me. I want to be violent. Trust me. Really violent. “
In response to this, the men’s basketball team in conjunction with Oasis, an on-campus organization that works on meeting the needs of ethnic minority students, created the Hate Will Never Win campaign. The campaign included t-shirts with the words, “Hate Will Never Win,” imprinted on them and a video of basketball players stating the same words, which was played during the halftime show of a game.
As a school that claims to value diversity, you would think that UNL would not tolerate white supremacy- but instead, students received an email that encourages civil dialogue with nazi, Daniel Kleve. This is an underwhelming, and inappropriate response. Do better @UNLincolnpic.twitter.com/ZoWxWXof1l
— taylor wagner (@taylorawag) February 6, 2018
Moises Padilla, assistant director of Oasis said, “The goal of the campaign was to create a more positive narrative and say specifically what the values of the university are, or remind everyone. Going forward we want to continue spreading that message of civility and harmony on our campus.”
The rise in white supremacy on college campuses is one that is alarming, but the data shows that the problem is far and wide. The ADL reported that white supremacist murders more than doubled from 2016 to 2017, and for Cait Fitz, a recent graduate of Lasell College, believes that the recent spike is no coincidence.
“Unfortunately, racism has always been present in our country. But I fully believe the administration has essentially given permission to people to act above others, when it isn't the case," she said.
“Unfortunately, racism has always been present in our country, but I fully believe the administration has essentially given permission to people to act above others, when it isn't the case.”
Shortly following the march in Charlottesville last fall, President Donald Trump made a brief statement at his private golf club in New Jersey and condemned violence on "many sides." People were outraged and the backlash was quick.
Hosseini, daughter of Iraian immigrants said that the rise of President Trump has not only fueled white supremacists but has also attacked other minority groups.
"When President Trump initially started the travel ban discussions and continuously making degrading comments about Middle Easterners, my family and I took it offensively because he generalized and defamed an entire religion. President Trump opened the door to and justified racism and hate speech towards Muslims," she said.
The harsh and devastating reality is that this is the new world we are living in. A world where marginalized people are concerned for their safety, college campuses are the breeding grounds for young white supremacists and our current President struggles to denounce all of it.
Harshe says, “On the human side of things, I believe we have a duty as human beings to do everything we can to spread love. This means speaking out against white supremacy. It means listening to students of color. It means protesting hatred. It means speaking love and making sure your words are heard. There are other ways to combat hate speech besides censoring it.”
Expressing yourself and your outrage in toxic times like these can be scary, but our democracy is at stake so it is time to get over that fear and start impacting change.