White supremacists? At my university? It’s likelier than you might think.
On March 30, students discovered flyers and stickers displaying a white nationalist group’s logo posted in various locations on Weber State University’s main campus. The Southern Poverty Law Center and ADL label the group as a white nationalist hate group. Students at WSU for the final day of the National Undergraduate Literature Conference reported the stickers to campus police.
Early in the morning of April 10, President Brad Mortensen and Weber State University released their official statement regarding the stickers. Mortensen said, “At Weber State, we vigorously protect free speech and the diversity of ideas. Nonetheless, we call out racist and hateful speech aimed at intimidating and frightening individuals and communities.”
March 30 was the first time Adrienne Andrews, the Assistant Vice President for Diversity, heard about the stickers and flyers. According to Andrews, her first step was to reach out to both the Weber State Police Department and the President’s office.
“We had wonderful people on the ground on campus on Saturday (March 30) who were here and able to respond and funnel information back to me,” Andrews said.
One of the first students to find the flyers began taking them down before reaching out to friends to help her — and calling Weber State Police.
“Once we find out about vandalism we do everything we can to get it removed as quick as possible,” said Director of Campus Services Weston Woodward. “In this case we had three employees come onto campus on Saturday. They did a sweep through the main campus areas to remove all the unauthorized sticker and signage.”
According to Woodward, Campus Services sent out employees the following day to sweep through less-frequented areas on campus as well.
There was no free speech issue in terms of the removal of flyers, because the people posting them did not go through the proper channels to get the flyers approved by the university.
“In addition to the posters appearing, there are place, time and manner restrictions they did not follow,” Andrews said.
While the flyers represent a logistical issue, the impact also affected the student body and campus community as a whole.
In an interview with ABC4 News, Black Scholars United President JaLisa Lee said, “My heart just sank because it happened last spring and last fall. I was just like, ‘Again? We have to experience this again?’ It makes me sick. It makes me sad.”
The next step for Andrews was a pair of events, both held last week. On April 2, there were whiteboards placed in the Shepherd Union for students to share whether or not they felt safe at WSU. On April 4, Andrews moderated a discussion about openness on the campus and addressed some of the thoughts students wrote on the whiteboards.
Weber State senior Hailey Burton decided that the lack of response from the university, as of April 8, was not enough. She decided to hold a sit-in at the front doors of the Miller Administration Building with a poster espousing the importance of love and Beatles music blaring out of an old-school radio. Burton is a geography major who considers herself one of the primary activists on campus.
She decided to hold the sit-in because of what she saw as a lack of action by the administration and wanted to use her opportunity to make sure that student voices were heard. Burton said that she heard about the flyers going up after seeing the ABC4 story shared on her Facebook page by friends and classmates.
“I didn’t hear about it on campus,” Burton said. “I didn’t see the whiteboards or anything like that.”
Burton already had the poster prepared and decided the morning-of to start her sit-in. She went back for the second straight day on April 9 with the same poster, slightly worn by the rain, and the same radio. Before holding her sit-in, Burton notified over 120 members of the campus community via email.
This included several members of the University Administration, different department chairs, the entire WSUSA Senate and Executive Board. In terms of the physical removal, the stickers and the flyers led to different challenges.
The stickers were stuck to buildings, hand rails, lamp posts and just about any other surface they would adhere to on campus. The flyers were attached to buildings using an adhesive spray that left marks on the walls where they were placed.
“This time, we were able to peel many of the stickers off without the assistance of chemicals and tools,” Woodward said. “We’ve had to apply cleaning chemicals, depending on the surface that was contaminated, and then scrubbed or we used razor blades to remove the residue — again, depending on the surface.”
Andrews also addressed the additional difficulties in removing stickers as opposed to flyers. While the physical residue will be erased from the campus, the memory of the flyers will survive, as will the lack of an official statement. For Burton, it’s important to call hate groups what they are.
“People like that don’t see themselves, or identify, as white supremacists,” Burton said. “So it’s important to use that rhetoric and to talk about them in the way that sheds truth on what’s happening.”