By Jason Herring, November 9 2017 —
A trend across North American campuses of the proliferation of racist posters saying, “It’s okay to be white” has come to the University of Calgary. Pieces of paper sporting the message started appearing around campus on Nov. 2. The same message also appeared on the campus Rock early on Nov. 6.
According to the Washington Post, the message originated from the 4chan online message boards, where users reportedly encouraged others to post flyers on campuses in order to “feed social unrest and sway white Americans to far-right ideologies.”
The U of C was unable to provide the Gauntlet interviews regarding the incident and no staff members contacted were willing to speak on record. Instead, the U of C provided two statements.
In an initial written statement from Nov. 8, the U of C recognized that the posters were “distressing” to some but stressed “diversity of opinions” on campus.
“The concept of freedom of speech is a foundational principle of all great universities. The University of Calgary is committed to fostering an environment of free inquiry, open debate and diversity of opinions. The university supports students or others sharing their views about subjects — including those that are controversial — in a safe and respectful manner,” the statement read. “We understand that some members of our community might find the materials distressing and upsetting. We endeavor to work closely with individuals in a collaborative manner regarding matters of concern.”
The U of C issued a follow-up statement attributed to vice-provost student experience Susan Barker on Nov. 9. The statement called the posters “inherently racist.”
“The University can confirm that a few posters and the rock were found with the message ‘it’s ok to be white.’ We have been monitoring similar incidents at universities across North America. Despite seeming innocuous, the original intent of the message is inherently racist and designed to create division in our community. We are unaware who is responsible for the messages at the University of Calgary but we recognize that reaction has the potential to further escalate division,” the statement read. “We are a very diverse campus and we want to ensure everyone feels safe and welcome here. We do not tolerate racism in any form on our campus and we encourage members to report incidents and concerns to us so that they can be dealt with. Reports can be filed with campus security.”
Shortly before the posters appeared at the U of C, they were found on the University of Alberta campus. In response, the U of A president David Turpin characterized the posters as “incidents of racism […] that will not be tolerated.” These posters have also appeared at over 100 campuses and high schools across North America.
Third-year women’s studies student Margaret Patterson was among students who painted over the Rock when these messages initially appeared. Patterson said that while the words alone may not immediately seem problematic, the context behind them reveals issues.
“It sounds simple when you see the ‘It’s okay to be white’ posters,” Patterson said. “But when you think about the reason behind it, about the people doing it and collaborating, it’s a big problem. And I personally think campus isn’t doing enough. I don’t think that they’re taking it seriously and I think it’s very frustrating. I think that they’re allowing it to continue.”
Patterson added that they’d like the university take a more active role in equipping students to deal with acts of discrimination on campus.
“A lot of clubs are doing activism. We want to collaborate [with the university],” Patterson said. “If you don’t want to address the root problem one-on-one, that’s a good work around. Like, ‘Okay, we’re not going to say that you can’t [have free speech]. But we’re going to equip students with tools that they need to stand up against this.’ ”
This is the third time this semester that discriminatory messages appeared around campus. In early September, pride paintings on the Rock were vandalized. Later in the same month, a Confederate flag and the words “Robert E. Lee did nothing wrong” also appeared on the Rock.