On Halloween, the MSU campus was plastered with white flyers. No, they weren’t fun advertisements for corn mazes or little ghosts made of tissue paper. Instead, they bore the message, “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE.”
This statement may seem innocuous enough, but it is actually connected to white supremacist movements. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the saying took hold in 2001 when it was used as the title of a song by white power band, Aggressive Force. Since then, it has spread throughout neo-Nazi and white power groups as well as websites like 4chan. It was officially recognized by the ADL in connection with white supremacist material in 2005. The identities of the people who pasted up the flyers are unknown, but the Office of Institutional Equity believes that the perpetrators were part of an alt-right movement in Montana.
Over the past few years, posters bearing this slogan have appeared regularly around Halloween at college campuses across the country, according to Inside Higher Ed. The posters are typically pasted in prominent locations and spread throughout campuses. A potential reason for this is that people are able to put up the posters while wearing masks or otherwise hiding their identities at this time of year.
MSU spokesperson Mike Becker condemned the posters in an article by the Bozeman Chronicle, stating, “Montana State University strongly rejects white supremacy or white nationalist views.” According to ASMSU Senator Meriwether Schroeer-Smith, ASMSU is currently drafting a resolution “denouncing white supremacy on our campus.”
However, the university has not released an official report publicly criticizing the flyers or acknowledging them to the campus itself. In addition, the only flyer that was taken down was one posted on the sign for Montana Hall, since MSU does not allow public messaging on the sign. Other flyers were permitted to remain up on boards across campus according to MSU’s Freedom of Expression Policy , according to Becker. At the time of this article’s publication, there was no official investigation into the flyers.
Other campuses have responded to flyers on their school grounds with several concrete steps. For instance, East Tennessee State University is currently conducting a serious investigation into the placement of flyers on their campus. Faculty and staff worked together to remove the flyers, and President Brian Noland issued a statement to the campus. At Western Connecticut State University, university police reported the incident to local and state police, who are working with the university to investigate the flyers. President John Clark also issued a public letter condemning the flyers.
These posters and the lack of university response are indicative of a broader issue on the MSU campus: a lack of diversity. Students reacted to the flyers in a variety of ways. While some responded by tearing down the posters or writing messages like “small-minded and ignorant,” others responded with messages supporting the flyers. The lack of diversity on MSU and predominance of a majority culture makes minorities feel unsafe, and this must change.
Freshman business management major Vicente Frias said, “I genuinely think that the lack of identities at MSU doesn’t allow for multiple perspectives to be shared. When they are, there isn’t a common ground where people can really speak about it without being fearful. There’s so much more that can be done.” Frias suggested additional teaching programs to raise awareness of minority groups. He recommended creating educational modules for incoming freshmen and current students to educate the campus on other cultural experiences and perspectives.
Frias’s concept was seconded by freshman sociology major Jaryn Beckman, who said that there should be a required cultural class for MSU students and/or a diversity and anti-discrimination program for resident advisors to spread awareness of other groups to students. In regards to the flyers, she said, “The fact that there’s an underlying cause for it is what makes it dangerous.”
Both students agreed that people who grow up in communities filled with people who are the same as them tend to adhere to preconceived notions about minority groups. While the flyers may seem like a small issue, they are actually indicative of a dismissal of minority groups by people who have never had to deal with questions of minority experience. Frias said, “All we have is the implicit biases we have, and those are ingrained, not taught. We can teach people how to change things.”
The Black Student Union (BSU), led by President Lyla Brown, said that the BSU also expressed their disappointment with the lack of action against the flyers to faculty members and staff. They also discussed the problems with the flyers with other students, coworkers, and family members. Brown said that the “major intersectionality in all these different discussions was our safety being at risk.”
As a campus, we cannot remain silent on this issue. We are faced with a choice. We can either stand up and resist these messages, or we can ignore them and perpetuate their ideas. These flyers are a clear example of white supremacy on our campus, and we must take a stand against these divisive, racist and despicable messages. We cannot pretend that they do not exist or defend them as an example of free speech.
If you see these flyers around campus, I urge you to tear them down or deface them. Vandalism in the name of protecting minorities on this campus is no vandalism at all. But don’t stop there. Spread education and awareness through creating sustained dialogue anywhere that you can. Have discussions with your floor, your friends, your family, and everyone else around you. Attend lectures and events from cultural clubs on campus and learn more about people who are different than you. Advocate for new diversity programs and classes on campus.
We can’t always control diversity, but we have the power to create inclusivity. Inclusivity itself promotes diversity, since it creates a safe space for people of all different identifiers to come together peacefully. Use whatever platform you have to promote inclusivity on this campus, and don’t be afraid to stand up and speak out.
Correction: MSU did not circulate an internal email instructing staff to remove posters from campus.