This story has been updated to reflect student perspectives.
Several flyers produced by an organization called American Renaissance were found around campus on Oct. 16. The flyers encouraged readers to “embrace white identity,” claiming that “men of the West don’t give in to hate.” The group has previously posted flyers on campuses across the country. Additionally, one of American Renaissance’s editors attended Vanderbilt in the late 2000s, when he started a chapter of a white nationalist organization on campus.
On Oct. 25, Dean of Students Dean Bandas and Vice Provost of Inclusive Excellence Melissa Thomas-Hunt sent an email to the student body condemning the messaging in the flyers and stating that they violate the University’s Publicity, Promotions, and Advertising policies and were therefore removed.
“The promotion of white supremacy sharply conflicts with our core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion and we condemn it,” the email read. “As an institution of learning, Vanderbilt recognizes the importance of free speech and invites civil debate and dialogue.”The values espoused and held by American Renaissance are inconsistent with those of Vanderbilt University.”
A flyer was found by a member of the Multicultural Leadership Council in a room in Stevenson Center that serves as a popular study spot for students of color, particularly Muslim students, said junior Jacob Pierce, the president of MLC.
When Pierce found out about the flyers, he consulted with the MLC council and began drafting a statement declaring MLC’s opposition to the ideas espoused in the posted flyers. Pierce presented the statement to the MLC council on Monday, and then began circulating it among student leaders around campus.
“I feel like white supremacy isn’t something that just impacts the members of the community that I represent and that I’m here to advocate for,” Pierce said. “It’s something that affects everybody on campus.”
Pierce distributed the statement to a large group of organizations, including the presidents of each of the Greek organizations, the interfaith council, the member organizations of MLC, performing arts groups and many others. He encouraged the student leaders to read the statement and sign it on their organization’s behalf.
So far, Pierce has been pleased with the diversity of the approximately 45 responses he has received from campus leaders thus far, and plans on releasing the statement to the public on Friday morning.
“[It’s] just such a diverse array of organizations that are sort of standing against this unfortunate incident and that’s very reassuring to me that Vanderbilt is better than this and we recognize that we are better this,” Pierce said.
Pierce said he has seen an increase in advocacy for white supremacy and other messages that are harmful to marginalized groups, at least in part, to the campaign and election of President Donald Trump.
“I think people feel a lot more willing to vocalise these opinions that they used to keep sort of swept under the rug, and I don’t necessarily think that Vanderbilt was exempt from that,” Pierce said. “I think that a lot of people just didn’t feel comfortable talking about it, and now after the election last year people feel a lot more comfortable to talk about these issues, to talk about these beliefs that they have about race and racism in the United States.
While this incident has been disturbing and off putting to Pierce, he finds silver linings in the fact that it has rallied together student leaders across campus to declare their support for historically marginalized communities, both on campus and around the United States.
“I also do think it’s very nice and reassuring that there are so many other organizations on campus that are supportive, that are standing in solidarity with us, and I think that’s super important to keep in mind,” Pierce said. “It gives me a lot of faith in hope not only in this campus, but the rest of the United States as well, as cheesy as that sounds.”
However, Pierce pointed out that declaring support isn’t going to be enough to make long-term change.
“I do hope that we can do more than just write statements and sign on to statements,” Pierce said. “I hope this engenders a larger more important conversation about race and racism in the United States and specifically on Vanderbilt’s campus and how we as student leaders in student organizations can work to make everybody feel more included, particularly students of color and students from historically marginalized groups.”
Matt Colleran, a vocal and involved conservative on campus and columnist for the Hustler, denounced these flyers and the organization that distributed them. He identified their messages as reflective of alt-right ideology, which he understands as distinctly different from the conservatism he identifies with.
“I know who these types of people are: these alt-right, white supremacist, identitarian types of people,” Colleran said. “And they have a fundamentally un-conservative and disgusting viewpoint that white people are biologically or culturally superior to non white people. Some of them feel like they can somehow twist conservatism to claim that that’s what it is when it really isn’t.”
Additionally, Colleran supports the sentiment expressed in the email sent to students, despite having criticized the university taking stances on similar issues in the past.
“I would say that obviously we have to condemn white supremacy, Nazism, any kind of identitarian politics that puts one group over another,” Colleran said.
Colleran openly rejects liberal ideology, advocating heavily for conservative perspectives on multiple platforms. However, he sees political parties as irrelevant in this particular instance and others that resemble it.
“Conservatives and liberals should be uniting together completely condemning any sort of crazy violent ideologies.”
Despite being an advocate for free speech, he supports the removal of these flyers on campus.
“I think we should condemn the alt-right at all costs, and I think it was the correct decision to take down these flyers. They had no right to be there,” he said.
Read the text of the full email sent to the student body below.
Dear Vanderbilt Students,
Several flyers produced by an outside organization linked to extremism— American Renaissance—were recently found on Vanderbilt’s campus. The organization promotes white racial consciousness and asserts that whites are superior to other races in a range of behavioral domains. The organization has been linked to the distribution of its literature on college campuses across the nation.
These flyers were distributed in violation of the University’s Publicity, Promotions, and Advertising policies, which do not permit advertising or announcements unrelated to University activities. They have been removed, and Dean of Students staff continue to monitor bulletin boards on campus.
The values espoused and held by American Renaissance are inconsistent with those of Vanderbilt University. The promotion of white supremacy sharply conflicts with our core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion and we condemn it. As an institution of learning, Vanderbilt recognizes the importance of free speech and invites civil debate and dialogue.
Melissa Thomas-Hunt, Vice Provost of Inclusive Excellence
Mark Bandas, Associate Provost and Dean of Students