In recent months, flyers and stickers promoting white supremacy and neo-Nazi ideology have been cropping up at theatres, on lamp posts and car2go bumpers, and, most notably, at the University of Washington. Unfortunately, the East Side isn't immune to this Trump-inspired phenomenon, either.
In late March, a Bellevue College student who identifies herself as Christy X discovered flyers spreading Islamophobic and anti-Semitic rhetoric tacked onto cork message boards near the campus cafeteria. One read: "Imagine a Muslim-free America." Another: "RECLAIM AMERICA." Another: "TAKE YOUR COUNTRY BACK. Look around, white man. Is this the nation your ancestors died for?" The posters all provide the web address for Vanguard America, a self-identified white nationalist group.
In an e-mail sent to Bellevue College students on April 17, Interim President Dr. Jill Wakefield wrote that "several incidents of hate sentiment were reported over the past three quarters."
Earlier in the month, the school launched a campaign called "You Are Welcome Here," which focuses on diversity and inclusion, to pushback against a perceived climate of hate and fear.
In an online announcement about the campaign's launch on April 5, Wakefield wrote that campus administrators had been "disturbed by recent incidents that have affected our community, from the posting of prohibited literature on our campus, to divisive rhetoric across the nation that attempts to silence the conversations surrounding inclusion, pluralism, and equity." She also noted that resources were available to refugee, immigrant, and international students.
But some students say Bellevue College administrators could do a lot more to help prevent incidents like these from happening. BC Students United, a student group, reposted a list of demands that grew out of a spate of anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ graffiti incidents in 2016, including: direct communication between students and administration on hate crimes, adequate public safety officers, and ending alleged retaliation against students who speak out against hate speech, among other demands.
In response to a perceived lack of action from Bellevue College officials regarding the flyers and other student concerns, the group is leading a "peaceful, disruptive" student walkout this afternoon.
"We feel that administration is starting to take our concerns more seriously because of protest; however, there is much to be desired from them," BC Students United representatives wrote in a statement. "We hope to see a shift in priority towards ensuring the safety of marginalized students, including more supports for marginalized students to organize for our own communities' self-defense."
Christy X would like to see the school administration specifically condemn the flyers as examples of white supremacist rhetoric. The "You Are Welcome Here" campaign, she said, just doesn't cut it.
"'Diversity' is just a codeword for 'color blind,'" she said. "There’s nothing being hit head on. ... [There has been] no honest conversation about white supremacist flyering or anti-Black, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant speech [in classrooms]."
When asked whether Bellevue College administrators consider the language in the flyers to be promoting white supremacy, the college's Associate Director of Communications Nicole Beattie wrote:
Identical or similar fliers have appeared on campuses across the nation, and they have been referred to as 'racist' and 'white supremacist'. However they're described, they don't represent our commitment to diversity and equity, and have been removed immediately.
Aside from the "You Are Welcome Here" Campaign, Beattie noted that the school led a "Social Justice for Black Lives” initiative, which included events and workshops for faculty and students, for the last nine months. The school also has an Office of Equity and Pluralism and that the college's Vice President for Diversity, is charged with reviewing weekly campus public safety logs "to identify cases of potential bias" and with graffiti incidents, she wrote.
Interim VP of Diversity Sayumi Irey maintained that flyers that aren't approved by Bellevue College are removed. She said she understood students' concerns about transparency between them and the administration and that communication can always be improved.
"I understand that people are empathetic," Irey said. "We want to protect the most vulnerable groups. ... Some of the students worry that we don’t do anything. But sometimes we don’t publish all of [reports of unapproved flyers]."
She continued: "We want to be transparent, but we also don’t want to scare students. If we report every single one of them, I think if I was a student, I would ignore [the messages]. If we see a pattern, we will want to notify students."
This post has been updated to include a statement from BC Students United.