Posters at UT latest display of campus post-election racism
By Lindsay Ellis –
Posters targeting Muslims, racial minorities and immigrants startled University of Texas at Austin students on Monday, the latest display in what has become a disturbing pattern on Texas campuses after President Donald Trump’s election.
“Imagine a Muslim-free America,” one sign displaying the World Trade Center read, affixed to an outdoor pole. Kristie Flannery, a graduate student studying history, took a photo of the poster and said she reported it to UT’s dean of students.
Universities responding to these reports often find themselves in a tough position, balancing the need to protect free speech with making sure students feel safe on campus. The sign Flannery reported on Monday was particularly chilling after Trump’s recent executive action on immigration, which barred citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. A federal appeals court last week let stand a temporary suspension of Trump’s travel ban that a federal judge had ordered.
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UT leaned on campus policy in its response to the signs. “The university vigorously supports free speech, but posting signs of any nature on the outside of university buildings is not allowed under campus rules,” spokesman J.B. Bird said in a statement.
Only students and student organizations can post signs on campus, he said, and any person on campus who defaces UT property is subject to criminal prosecution. A white supremacist group whose website was on the anti-Muslim poster took responsibility for the signs on Twitter.
Flannery called the response “weak,” urging UT to take a stronger stand against the sentiments behind the display. “The posters are pretty hateful and, I think, intimidating.”
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The white supremacist group, called American Vanguard, also said they placed racist recruitment posters on other college campuses earlier this year, including at Rice University. The University of North Texas in Denton and Texas State University in San Marcos were targeted in that sting. Rice also saw chalk graffiti that read “Trump!” with a swastika.
Rice officials removed the displays and vandalism after each report. The university, spokesman David Ruth said at the time, has a policy against solicitation without permission.
President David Leebron and undergraduate dean John Hutchinson sharply criticized the swastika graffiti earlier this month.
“I have had it with this behavior,” Hutchinson said in a Facebook post. “The use of the swastika clearly reveals that whoever did this is either ignorant of the history of true evil associated with this emblem of hate or is genuinely motivated by blind hatred.”
University President David Leebron echoed Hutchinson’s statement. “We won’t tolerate such behavior, and it will be punished.”
Nearly 1,365 hate crimes and bias incidents have been reported in the U.S. since the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center said Friday. Of those, 85 sightings of racist posters have been reported around the country, the majority of which have been on college campuses, that group found.