By Charlie Gstalder, Opinions page editor
Xavier is letting White supremacists win.
On Sept. 5, a White supremacist hate group vandalized Xavier. This is the fourth time in the past year that campus has been attacked by said group. On Sept. 9, Xavier’s Vice President for Risk Management Jeff Coleman and Chief Student Affairs Officer Dave Johnson released a statement via email through the Student Government Association (SGA).
In their statement, Coleman and Johnson made four declarations: the responsible organization has continuously targeted Xavier because of the university’s public response to each attack, it is impossible to prevent these attacks without adopting a closed campus, the responsible group poses no physical safety threat and Xavier students should focus on reporting attacks. I take issue with each declaration.
Before I continue, a quick note on terminology: Throughout this article I refer to these incidents as attacks, rather than acts of vandalism. I have made this choice because each act of vandalism was committed with racial and nationalistic bias and the intent of attacking minority student’s sense of safety and security.
I vehemently reject the assertion that the responsible group poses no threat to student’s physical safety. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that monitors hate groups across the United States, the responsible group was formed after splitting off from a Neo-Nazi group following the deadly Charlottesville, Va. rally in 2017. The responsible group’s founder led members of the Neo-Nazi group during the rally, including the man who was responsible for the domestic terror attack that killed one and injured 35 counter protestors at the rally. SPLC reports that the responsible group split from the original Neo-Nazi group because of differing opinions on branding, not because of any difference in ideology.
It is not that the group that has attacked Xavier is not capable of violence, but rather that they are committed to depicting themselves as nonviolent. Thus, declaring that “there is no evidence these people pose any threat to the physical safety of our community members,” is at best playing straight into their image cultivation and at worst, gambling with minority students’ lives.
But even if the group truly is not violent, it does not change the fact that students are scared. They are terrified. And instead of abetting that terror, the university only added to it. Students are now not just afraid of encountering White supremacist propaganda on their way to class, they are afraid to speak about their fear.
When interviewed for a Newswire article on the letter, students refused to be quoted unless promised anonymity out of fear of university reprisal. The intent of the sent letter doesn’t matter; it is disgusting that students are afraid of being punished for discussing these attacks.
Even without fear of reprisal, I am still skeptical of the emphasis placed on student reporting of these attacks.
The issue has never been an unwillingness to report these incidents, but rather an unwillingness by XUPD to respond. After the first hate crime occurred, members of Newswire were one of the first to file Bias Action Response Team claims and contact XUPD. XUPD initially told the student that the vandalism was not their responsibility and that they should instead call Physical Plant.
The Black Students Association (BSA) spoke of a similar experience following the second attack. In an April 15 opinion piece for Newswire, BSA wrote:
“A Black student felt that their life and others’ lives might be at risk. To be responsible, they contacted XUPD and were met with inaction. Only after several students filed complaints to the Bias Action Response Team were the bigoted stickers removed, and XUPD patrolled the campus.”
Given the pattern of police inaction, are students really supposed to believe that making reports with the Guardian Application will be enough to protect them?
In their letter, Coleman and Johnson say that XUPD worked on “enhancing the security coverage of campus spaces” over the summer. If that is true, then where were these new safety measures on Sept. 5? Do they even exist yet?
In an Aug. 29 interview with Newswire, XUPD Chief Robert Warfel explained that the university was reviewing several bids from security companies to increase Xavier’s security camera coverage and noted that in a “best case scenario,” the security camera initiative could be underway by the end of September. Were these cameras — that are still being bidded on — the “enhanced security coverage” in Johnson and Coleman’s letter? If so, it is misleading to speak about them as if they have already been implemented. And if not, then where is the security footage of the Sept. 5 attack?
Additionally, I view the notion that we must pick between preventing these hate crimes and maintaining an open campus as a false choice. You can still work to protect students and the community from White supremacists without erecting Fordham University-style walls and gates around Xavier.
In their letter, Coleman and Johnson cite Bellarmine Parish as one of the benefits of maintaining an open campus. While true, this statement conveniently ignores the reality that Bellarmine chapel itself was the site of many of the attacks that have occurred on Xavier’s campus. If nothing short of becoming a closed campus can prevent these attacks, then are Bellarmine’s parishioners expected to worship under racist propaganda every few months?
Finally, I admit that the public conversations regarding the first three attacks likely achieved the desired outcome of the group. However, there is no reason to believe these attacks will simply stop if we cease our public conversations about them. The SPLC’s file on the responsible organization notes:
“Members… must regularly engage in (radical acts) — such as posting flyers in their local communities — or risk expulsion. Members’ typically-mundane local activism is then distributed across (the group’s) social media accounts alongside ostentatious quotes from (the group’s) manifesto.”
The frequency of the attacks at Xavier and in the surrounding area signify that at least one member of the responsible group lives either in close proximity to Xavier or is a Xavier student themselves. With the above policy, it is safe to assume these attacks will continue with some regularity until the responsible parties are apprehended.
If our media coverage of the attacks has shown that Xavier is a good target, the failure of the university to prevent further attacks has shown that White supremacist groups can attack Xavier with impunity.
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