Why Are Universities Becoming Targets For Racist Attacks?

There has been an increase in hate incidents on college campuses against people of color, and some say it may be due to President Donald Trump's election.

Black Lives Matter protesters gather in Boston with a Black Lives Matter sign in the crowd

These days, university campuses feel less and less like they belong to students, and are beginning to feel more like targets for neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

After the Nov. 8, 2016, presidential election until April, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) documented 330 incidents of hate crimes on university campuses, with 87 incidents occurring in the 10 days after Trump’s election alone.

The uptick in these incidents can largely be attributed to the rise in white nationalism and the strengthening of alt-right affiliations. The alt-right, a term coined by white nationalist leader Richard Bertrand Spencer in 2008, describes the far-right ideology that the “white identity” is under attack.

Why, though, is the alt-right movement targeting college campuses? The alt-right encompasses a diverse array of ideologies, but the common core is an attack against multi-culturalism and political correctness, two factors that define modern college communities.

“College students are curious and receptive to new, even radical, ideas. And universities, by definition, welcome free speech and philosophies of every stripe. Publicly funded schools, in fact, may not prohibit free speech,” the SPLC explained. “It’s an opportunity the alt-right and other extremists are enthusiastically exploiting to attack egalitarian values and recruit students to their cause.”

Just ask Taylor Dumpson, the first African-American female student-government president at Washington, D.C.’s American University about targeted racism on campus. In May, on the day Dumpson took office, bananas tied with nooses and tagged with racist remarks were hung around campus.

“I think the most threatening part is that we’re beginning to see this rise up again because people feel comfortable and they feel empowered to have these kind of beliefs, and that’s terrifying,” Dumpson told Al Jazeera.

The hate incident prompted an ongoing FBI investigation into the matter, but it didn’t stop the harassment.

Last week, Confederate flag fliers were hung in several buildings on the American University campus, with cotton stalks and “Huzzah for Dixie” written on the fliers. Dr. Ibram Kendi had just given a presentation to students titled “A Vision for Equality," an introduction to the Antiracist Research and Policy Center, when students leaving the lecture noticed the fliers.

In both cases, the perpetrators targeted symbols of diversity and inclusion, and they spread their propaganda messages in public spaces, directly contradicting the more liberal signage already displayed. In one photo, a Dixie flag and cotton stalk are placed directly over a flier for The Center for Diversity and Inclusion at American University.

“This is the latest attempt to frighten our community, as groups are trying to frighten other communities around the country,” Kendi wrote. “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the strength to do what is right in the face of it. In the coming days and weeks and months, no matter what happens, let’s gather that strength together. Do not let these terrorists slow you down, fear you down.”

Not only have these hate incidents increased, but the recruiting efforts for these movements have also increased on college campuses, and many think it’s due to the election of President Donald Trump.

“They’ve been doing this for years because they think they have a chance and an opportunity to put their things in motion, and that’s only because Donald Trump is in office,” Daryl Lamonte Jenkins, the founder of anti-racist organization One People’s Project said.

Indeed, Trump has done very little to contradict his associations with this uptick in white supremacist public displays.

After the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a young liberal protester was murdered by a white supremacist, Trump came out with a statement claiming, “You also had people that were very fine people on both sides” of the conflict.

There was a side filled with neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and a side filled with people opposing those ideologies. The notion that one side could be equal to the other in terms of who is a “fine” person is simply absurd. The statement didn’t deny a positive association with these white nationalists, and only supported their interests at the highest level.

While racist incidents have occurred on college campuses for decades, it’s impossible to ignore the recent increase. Tensions are high; the topic of racism in our society has even infiltrated sports with Colin Kaepernick and others inspiring public displays against police brutality toward people of color.

The ideals of diversity, free speech, and inclusion will continue to prosper at higher places of learning, and therefore they’ll continue to be targets. It’s up to university officials to condemn hate when they see it, and it’s up to students to stand up to hate in a manner that shows strength and condemns fear. 

Banner/Thumbnail Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

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