College Campuses Confront Their White Supremacy

It is no surprise that racism still exists virtually everywhere today. Race permeates our social interactions. White supremacy has implicitly infiltrated and dominated our institutions. What recently transpired on the Bard Simon’s Rock Early College Campus was ultimately not unique, but a symptom of the hate that runs our counties and country today. How can we examine this incident within the context of white supremacy on and off college campuses? And why must violence keep happening for honest discussions of change to occur?

I spoke with Stone Mims, a Simon’s Rock Alum and Programming Coordinator for the Council of Inclusive Excellence to set the record straight. On Friday September 27th around 2:00pm, a black female woman reported that she’d been assaulted near the Interpretive Trail on the Simon’s Rock Campus. She was subsequently hospitalized. A couple of weeks before the attack, there were multiple incidents of racist graffiti scrawled on the walls of Simon Rock’s Campus Center. The first incident comprised of the N-word written on a wall by an unidentified individual. Upon the removal of the intial defacing slurs, more severe graffiti was made in permamnent marker, with “Dumb N—–” or “N—– don’t belong here.” 

In spite of a new DA Report that raises questions about the circumstances surrounding the altercation, we at Bard  maintain a belief in the survivor and their story. The details brought to light in the report surrounding the attack do not change the fact that there is deep rooted racism stored within institutions and individuals on Bard campuses. It is in spite of these events and pressures that most POC led clubs and student activists rise. 

As predominantly white institutions, Simon’s Rock and the Bard Annandale campuses are not immune to the influence of racism and white supremacy. These ideologies continue to fuel systemic race tensions which ultimately manifested themselves in the physical attack of a woman of color. Tensions of the sort have fueled previous occurrences, like anti-semetic graffiti on multiple buildings on the Annandale campus, including behind the Campus Center. There have been reported sightings of nooses thrown around campus. 

White supremacy explicitly revealed itself in the form of Patriot Front flyers posted all over campus on September 29, 2019. The Patriot Front is a white, neo-Nazi nationalist organization, according to an email from Erin Cannan, Vice President of Student Affairs. The Bard incident was part of a series of attacks on all college campuses by the organization. The Front’s horrifying Twitter account, now suspended and offline, indicated this. These posters represent the reality of the racially bifurcated local and national world we still live in. From microaggressions at the Hannaford in Red Hook, to racist professors on campus, implicit bias and racial epistemes live closer to home than we may believe or see.

President Leon Botsetin, Erin Cannan and John Gomez, Director of Security, were in attendance and in conversation with students and other faculty members at a community forum on October 7. Demands included but were not limited to: A stronger relationship with our sister campus at Simon’s Rock, better lighting on often dark and shadowy paths, potentially installing security cameras on Annandale road, increased presence of campus security, and more transparent student-faculty communication. 

Immediate updates were the following: two new security personnel and positions, online maps of where to find emergency phones on campus, as well as temporary lighting on three parts of campus, as of October 8th.  These installments were already in the works, according to Cannan and Lopez. Timelines were expedited and more clearly communicated in direct response to student requests for transparency and efficiency. Unfortunately, an event of this severity was required to set in motion the wheels for open and honest student / faculty communication about racial dynamics at this institution. 

Recent transgressions on Bard’s campuses are repeats in a cycle. Acts of white nationalism, supremacy and racism have continued to rise in the Hudson Valley. White supremacist and nationalist propaganda on college campuses across America has risen significantly. 313 incidents of white nationalist documents on campuses have been recorded just last year. 

College campuses often represent spaces of freedom— of speech, thought and media. Inclusivity and diversity are spearheaded initiatives and goals. College and university susceptibility to white nationalism and racism has been increasingly brought to light as of late. Groups like the Front are making efforts to discover, recruit and militarize young extremists. Syracuse University, University of Georgia and University of Wisconsin are some of the few institutions who have experienced similarly unsurprising acts of racist graffiti just this month. From swastikas, to the N-word scrawled on dorm room facilities, white supremacy and racism are recurringly real threats to college campus sanctity. We are not safe. 

The Front targeted towns in the Hudson Valley far before it began targeting college campuses. Local news reports from lasts pring describe the persistent presence of neo-nazi stickers and swastikas in Peekskill, New York. Similar incidents occured in Beacon, NY, with racist and anti-semitic posters plastered onto telephone poles. The towns that border Bard and form our community are just as open, and at risk for infiltration.

A recent FBI report details the looming domestic terror threat of white supremacy in 2020. Hate crimes have generally decreased in number from last year, with 7,120 in 2019 compared to 7,175 in 2018. But, African Americans continue to be the most frequent target in racist hate-crimes nationally. White supremacist and nationalist groups are now classified as terrorists by the FBI, signaling the severity of the threat they now pose. Right wing extremists members of American nationalist groups have begun to cultivate international ties to other supremacist groups. With regular media communication, and conferences held in Nordic countries, collaboration of American and European supremacists has flourished between 2013-2019. Organizing an attack is as simple as sending a Facebook message.

There are civic engagement solutions present and within reach to try to combat and protect our communities. Inviting local leaders to host a dialogue on community response to white nationalism; connecting with community organizations and other campuses in the Hudson Valley for a solidarity event; stage sit ins, protests, forums; call local representatives– these are just some examples and recommendations on steps towards healing and change. To continue living in fear and apart is to allow for these actions to thrive. With a blanketed white supremacist as the President of this country, police brutality, xenophobia, and racism has proliferated.  Minorities cannot keep getting terrorized in order for conversations of change and honesty to occur. To be proactive is to begin now, on campus and beyond. 

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