Editorials, Opinions

Editorial: University’s response to racist flyers came too late

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

On Feb. 3, a series of appalling racist and anti-black pamphlets were found around the University and surrounding neighborhoods. These flyers — which were allegedly distributed by the white supremacist group Vanguard America, a primary organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August, according to a statement published by bluestockings magazine — contained harmful language and hateful stereotypes that are unacceptable in all contexts, and have no place in this campus, community and country.

In response, student leaders and local activists mobilized in support of affected community members, organizing two press conferences to condemn the disgusting flyers. Mayor Jorge Elorza and other local leaders also attended the gatherings and spoke in solidarity. The combined efforts of students, local residents, city leaders and organizations like the Brown and Providence chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People were a much-needed show of unity in an otherwise dark moment. Yet, in the midst of this grassroots resistance, the University stood silent.

On Feb. 14, a group of concerned black students published a statement in bluestockings magazine denouncing the pamphlets — and the University’s inaction. A week later, the University sent out a message on Today@Brown Feb. 21 condemning the pamphlets and reiterating its support for students. President Christina Paxson P’19 wrote, “Not only are such acts deeply harmful to the individuals and communities they target, they conflict with the very values that define our community at Brown. No person — whether a Brown student going to the library, a student from Hope High School walking to school or a Providence resident on the way to work — should be subject to flyers that have the intent to dehumanize and intimidate.” We wholeheartedly agree with these sentiments — but cannot help but question why on earth it took so long for the University to make such a statement. It is not enough that the flyers “generated a great deal of discussion among administrative leaders across the University.” Such rampant bigotry demands an immediate, unequivocal and public denunciation, which Paxson conceded in her message, writing “denouncing the flyer would have been an opportunity to reaffirm to members of our community who identify as black that Brown is committed to their wellbeing.”

After all, in a political moment when hate and intolerance are on the rise, it is pivotal that powerful institutions like Brown stand in support of community members of marginalized backgrounds. The University cannot hope to make strides in diversity and inclusion unless it can convince underrepresented individuals that they are safe and valued on campus. And this month, when the administration had the opportunity to do just that, it fell short.

In her letter, Paxson wrote that, “the best way for us to combat the ugly racism of the flyers spread across Providence is to redouble our efforts to do what we as a university community do best: educate ourselves and others about past and continued inequities, take principled stands against racism and bigotry and continue to move forward on our plans to build a more diverse and inclusive community.” It is unfortunate that the University took nearly three weeks — and a sharp rebuke from black student leaders — to take even the most basic of “principled stands.”

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: Anuj Krishnamurthy ’19, Mili Mitra ’18, Rhaime Kim ’ 20 and Grace Layer ’20. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.