Students and alumni at the University of Mary Washington are reacting to a flier posted on campus that depicts Nazi symbols and targeted the school’s LGBT community.
A student reported the incident earlier this month to the school but the larger campus community found out about the incident just yesterday after a story about it was featured on the front page of campus newspaper, the Blue & Gray Press, titled “UMW student finds aggressive Nazi message on bulletin board on Campus Walk.”
UMW president Troy Paino released a video statement Thursday evening condemning the flier and ensuring the community that the school is doing everything in its power to investigate.
He said the note is “contrary to everything UMW stands for” and that the school “respects everyone regardless of difference.”
Paino also championed his staff, saying, “Everyone who works here works tirelessly to create a supportive and safe environment.”
On Feb. 4, students Ahad Shahid and Chad Mundie found a note posted outside Lee Hall with a handwritten swastika and a note: “Attention Faggots!! We could live next door.”
The bulletin board also faces UMW’s Madison Hall, its gender neutral dorm.
Shahid posted a picture of the note on Twitter the next day, tagging the university’s Twitter handle to inform them.
“I’ve never before seen neo-Nazi propaganda on campus but I’ve seen responses like this from the university before where they failed,” he said. “It happened when students were getting threatened over Yik Yak and with the rugby team scandal a few years ago. Something happens and we don’t hear from the school.”
Juliette Landphair, vice president for student affairs, said the school responded quickly and was not called for comment for the student newspaper story.
She released a statement Thursday, which said upon learning about the note, the UMW police launched an investigation, which involved the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The UMW Police also informed and consulted with the Fredericksburg Police Department, which has been investigating similar incidents of hate crimes in the local community.
In addition, on Feb. 6, Dean of Student Life Cedric Rucker and UMW Police First Sergeant Brad Sullivan met with the student who discovered the note.
But Shahid said he felt like not much came out of that meeting.
“I believe the statement that came out was just a reaction to everyone finding out,” he said. “When we did meet, I specifically requested that the school promote togetherness on campus, but that didn’t happen. There was no condemnation of the flier... The school should be telling students of color, who are queer, that this is going on and put safety measures into place.”
He said he has heard from friends that they are scared and anxious since finding out about the flier. And he feels like there needs to be a program that allows students to discuss the hostile climate.
The UMW threat assessment team also met to discuss the posting, as well as other challenges to the university’s values of civility and inclusion.
“Working collaboratively to educate the university community on behavioral expectations, and holding those accountable who violate them, university officials will continue to strongly advance steps to stem the tide of such offensive acts,” Landphair said in the statement.
At the school’s Board of Visitors meeting Thursday, Landphair and Paino addressed the situation.
“I am very troubled by it,” said Paino, who also said he is receiving calls from concerned students and alumni.
Landphair said the school, like the surrounding area, has seen challenges with hate speech in the wake of the presidential election.
Just last week, Spotsylvania residents encountered white supremacist fliers.
Those fliers, which touted a neo-Nazi group called New Order and depicted an image of a swastika, said: “Make America WHITE again—and greatness will follow.”
Landphair said the school will update its plan to curb hate speech in the coming weeks.
Nico Madden, class of 2013, called the president’s office after reading the story in the Blue & Gray Press Thursday morning.
Madden said when he called to talk about the issue, he was met with surprise and confusion and it seemed the office was not aware of the vandalism.
“Evidently, it takes 11 days and a phone call from an alum for the office of the president to learn what happens concerning the campus and student body,” he said.
He said he was disgusted by the note, particularly as someone with a family member who was in the Holocaust.
“For the life of me, I cannot think of anything more repugnant and upsetting than seeing Nazi vandalism pop up around the campus—and even worse—that nobody has done anything about it yet,” he said. “Passivity engenders the coalescence of hatred, and the administration is proving to be extremely passive.”
Landphair said any person who has information about the note, or about any other hate crimes or speech, should call the UMW Police at 540/654-1025. Bias incidents may be reported at diversity.umw.edu/bias/reporting-an-incident.