Four white nationalist posters were found at Iowa State last week. The university responded.

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K. Rambo

The Daily reported on a poster found in Maple Hall. Three posters, previously unreported by the Daily, were found on the Student Services building on the night of Jan. 24, taped to an exterior door. Posters were also found in Friley Hall and on the Campanile.

The posters contained an illustration of the United States attempting to protect its southern border from an unspecified hand and had the hashtag “#MyBordersMyChoice,” which was part of a national campaign originating on white nationalist and white supremacist websites and forums.

The poster also referenced language being used in a national movement against sexual assault, appropriating the language to compare immigration to sexual assault.

Senior Vice President of Student Affairs Martino Harmon told the Daily that he has experienced and seen racism his entire life, even being targeted with racial slurs on a regular basis as a child.

He said this is one of the most large-scale coordinated movements encompassing white nationalist and white supremacist values he has seen in his lifetime.

Harmon believes at least the poster placed on the Student Services building was targeted and intended to scare the community and create shock.

Confusion in the University

Harmon said on Tuesday that the university made a mistake in responding, stating there was confusion between the posters and a lack of clarity that there were in fact posters in at least two different locations.

Harmon said there was confusion on the part of ISU Police Department. Harmon asked anyone with information about either incident to come forward.

“Honestly, there was a little bit of confusion when we heard about this, partly because it kind of fell over the weekend, there was confusion because we knew about one of the posters, which was at the Student Services building,” Harmon said. “We got a report about [the poster] at Maple Hall but I’m not sure that — I think people thought that it was the same one as the Student Services building, which doesn’t matter in terms of investigating, we still investigate.”

Harmon did say the poster at Maple Hall would be easier to investigate because of the four cameras in the lobby. He said that Iowa State Police Chief Michael Newton told him the department was initially unaware of the poster in Maple Hall but is now investigating.

Newton confirmed to the Daily on Tuesday that there was confusion on the part of the police department when attempting to distinguish between the posters. Newton said that while he and another member of the department received an email about it from the Campus Climate Response Team, Newton was out of town and the notification of the poster at Maple Hall was lost in the shuffle.

Newton did clarify that Iowa State Police is not investigating the event at Maple Hall because no crime was committed but is reviewing footage to assist Iowa State in identifying the person who put the poster in Maple Hall.

Harmon did feel it was important to say that the speech on the poster and associated with the group is hate speech that he described as vile, but that it is still protected speech.

Harmon said the university is required to protect the right to disseminating hate speech, as Iowa State is a public institution.

Associate Dean of Students Keith Robinder did not feel there was confusion on the part of the university, noting two separate reports came in through different channels. One is what the university considers to be the official channel in the Campus Climate Response Team, the other was an email sent to the Dean of Students office.

According to Robinder, the university has a system in place that assures all reports end up in the hands of their Campus Climate Response Team to be addressed as they see fit.

“In this case, I think that all of that occurred in that I am a member of the Campus Climate Response Team. I also receive the [Dean of Students Office] emails, so I received both notices to two different entities and the visual that was sent was the same poster and so I quickly made sure that the Office of Equal Opportunity and the police were aware that we were addressing multiple posters in multiple locations,” Robinder said. “I don’t know that there was confusion … I don’t know where that would be coming from.”

The Campus Climate Response Team is composed of faculty and staff to provide responses to bias incidents and other issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.

According to Robinder, the email from a student notifying the Dean of Students office about the poster in Maple Hall was received at 7:55 a.m. on Thursday, Robinder passed the information to the Campus Climate Response Team, which includes members of Iowa State Police, at 8:21 a.m.

“It just says ‘here’s another report that came in from another student showing the same flier was in Maple Hall,” Robinder said, reading the email he sent aloud.

The poster at the Student Services building was reported at 11 p.m. on the night of Jan. 24 and was removed before Robinder got to work about 8 a.m. the next morning. The email to the Campus Climate Response Team about the first report was sent at 7:45 a.m. on Thursday, according to Robinder.

While Harmon said the hate speech on and connected to the posters is protected, the manner in which they are being posted is a violation of the university posting policy. Harmon also said the university wants to have a conversation with whoever is posting them because they feel the tactic is not conducive to a productive conversation.

University Reponse

As the Daily reported Monday, no emails were sent to residents of Maple Hall on Thursday, or students campus wide, notifying them of the poster being found. Harmon said he feels the university can do more to notify students when these posters are found around the university halls, but added that the university does not intend to issue a statement each time they are found.

“Again, while specific notification to the students in Maple could have been helpful, but we also balance how many times do we notify students when these postings go up, and do they help the situation, or do they give these groups more attention,” Harmon wrote in an email to the Daily on Tuesday to clarify something he mentioned in an interview that morning. “It is debatable, but in this case the notification to Maple students could have at least provided an opportunity for someone to come forward and report, or at least communicate their feelings and concerns.”

“It’s just a case-by-case basis because sometimes notifying the community is the best decision and sometimes it may not be,” Robinder said. “I think we have a representative from the Department of Residence on the team and we tend to defer to the expertise they bring to the conversation about what’s going on when it’s in a residential community.”

Robinder said there are a number of factors that go into deciding whether or not to notify students including the scope of impact, whether or not there’s an investigation and whether or not the community can help identify the responsible party.

Robinder also said they consider if notifying students will “give more credibility to the poster and gives more attention to it.” Robinder said people often post controversial materials in an attempt to stir up the pot and felt that sending the email can “fuel the controversy.”

“Part of what we want to do is think about whether or not it’s actually more effective to have a very limited response because then that can extinguish any energy behind a bias-related incident,” Robinder said. “So it’s care for the students who are impacted and how many we know have been impacted or not impacted and whether or not we can then facilitate more of the investigation process.”

“We were aware of the situation and didn’t feel we had enough information to make a decision yet and so I think we were waiting for more information to come in,” Robinder said. “Given that we weren’t sure at that point if there were more posters from around campus, given that within 10 or 15 minutes, gone from an incident of one poster reported the previous night to a second poster in a different area in campus.

“We needed to determine, is this more widespread, what are we dealing with, and so, I’m not sure that we decided not to notify the residents of Maple Hall, we were just really looking to determine what is it that has occurred and what is the appropriate response.”

Robinder added that the Campus Climate Response Team was in an information gathering phase, rather than acting quickly on what he described as incomplete facts.

Robinder said he felt that a decision had not been made to notify students, but that the university simply decided they did not have enough information to make that decision.

“I am not aware of any conversations about sending an email out campus wide or even within the community,” Robinder said.

Robinder said that many students do not understand the complexities of making a decision in situations like this.

“The team would make that [decision to notify students] collectively, and I think that this case, this hasn’t risen to the level we feel like — I’m not aware of any conversations about communicating to the campus about what happened last week,” Robinder said.

Robinder said that while some students feel safer when notified, some students who were not previously aware of the situation would feel less safe after receiving the email.

Harmon said a decision was made not to send an email to the entire institution because the university administration has made statements in response to hate crimes and hate speech, both locally and nationally. Harmon said students want action rather than just statements disavowing the acts and statements.

He did say this was a response to this particular situation and statements may be issued in the future.

“Should we have reached out to students in the residence hall? In hindsight, that probably would have been a good idea,” Harmon said. “But again, it was that concept of ‘are we giving them [those who put up the posters] more attention than they deserve?’”

Moving Forward

Harmon addressed concerns from the students who found the poster in Maple Hall that the university is not doing enough.

“Not only can we be doing more, we are working on doing more, it just can’t happen, sometimes, fast enough,” Harmon said.

Harmon stressed that the process in ongoing and not instantaneous. He felt that people who have hate in their hearts will not change their views simply from having a conversation.

“I can clearly understand how students feel,” Harmon said. “I’m more angered and frustrated than [feeling] my own safety is at risk, but I understand why students feel that way.”

Harmon expanded on his personal feelings towards white nationalists and racist activity on campus. Expressing his own personal disdain for these belief systems, he was clear that he cannot simply stifle speech he disagrees with.

“I understand that this has an impact, but we can’t let these situations make us feel like we’re helpless or hopeless,” Harmon said. “We’ve got to fight back by showing the people that are doing this that they don’t matter. They’re not important and they can go back under the rock from which they came.”

Harmon felt from reading the comments about the story on social media that it was clear many had not researched the hateful rhetoric found on the website associated with the hashtag.

Harmon discussed several initiatives the university has undertaken in an effort to increase diversity and inclusion. He did say that regardless of all of the education, conversations and efforts, there will always be people who want to express hatred.