In the wake of protests over Confederate monuments in Chapel Hill and Durham, students at Appalachian State University and Salem College are taking a stand against controversial acts on their campuses.
Last week at Appalachian State, members of Identity Evropa, a white supremacist group, hung a banner on the university's campus before the first day of class in an effort to recruit or intimidate students.
Todd Carter, Watauga County NAACP branch president, said this act was part of a coordinated effort by Identity Evropa to make their voices known.
According to their Twitter account, Identity Evropa has been active at other colleges such as the University of Texas at Austin and Long Beach City College in California.
“Students were alarmed, mad, it was definitely meant to disrupt – it happened the night before first day of class – it was meant to disrupt and intimidate the African-American students, the Jewish students, LGBT students, immigrant students, minority students,” Carter said. “It was an act of hate and an act of intimidation.”
Anderson Clayton, student body president at Appalachian State, said the banner on campus was up for about 20 minutes before the Carolina Mountain Redneck Revolt, a group not associated with the university, removed the banner and posted a message on Facebook assertively telling Identity Evropa such acts are not tolerated.
“Even though the banner was a recruitment method and not necessarily a direct threat in regards to speech and what it said, the organization itself is still a threat to student safety, specifically those that identify with marginalized identities on our campus,” Clayton said.
Clayton said students were afraid, and many were angry at the lack of strong response from administration and Appalachian State's Chancellor Sheri Everts.
Appalachian State's Student Government Association plans to host an event focusing on hate crimes on college campuses and encouraging students to support each other.
Students at Salem College have also been working to ensure marginalized voices are protected at their school.
Jessi Bowman, a senior at Salem College, said in April students organized a sit-in to protest a variety of topics such as a lack of support from their counseling center, racism in classrooms and school traditions stemming from Salem College’s slave-owning founder.
Bowman said there have not been any formal protests this fall, which partially stems from the administration’s sudden and comprehensive protest policy issued last April requiring students to get pre-approval in order to protest.
“I think it’s really important that students aren’t being suppressed in what they’re told to believe, I think that’s an important part of the college experience – sort of figuring out what you believe, what you want to believe, what you did believe and now might not,” she said. “I think that’s what the space has become, is for college to be a place for learning and of challenges and challenging your own beliefs.”
Bowman is also chair of Salem College’s History Society and said the administration responded to protests by creating a history committee to modify the school’s traditions and make them more inclusive and truthful.
She said despite a common dismissive attitude toward student protests, it is interesting to see where college students lead cultural changes and should be allowed to do so.
Carter said those who would rather see a regression of cultural progress have been emboldened by the political landscape. He said opponents of universities remaining bastions of liberal free thought and national political rhetoric has created the illusion of a license to hate.
“So the rats can come out of the sewer," Carter said. "And everyone feels like they’re allowed to use hate speech because the president does."
Clayton also said politics have made it seem like hateful acts are acceptable, but college campuses standing at the center of cultural protests is not a new development.
“I think this has been going on for years," she said. "And the media has just decided now it is important to recognize students of color and people with marginalized identities are being targeted on college campuses."
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