Hate messages show up on University of Manitoba campus
Many students say they feel unsafe due to threatening nature of messages, union says
A University of Manitoba student says hateful messages posted on campus and sent to at least one fax machine add an "element of fear" to being on school grounds.
"I think it's sickening," said Charlene Hallett. "But, on the other side too, I want to roll my eyes and say, "You know what? No, you don't get to try to intimidate us this way.'"
Sheets of paper with the phrase "It's okay to be white" were taped to walls around the U of M campus this week. Faxes with the same phrase were sent to offices around the campus, including the women's and gender studies program.
Hallett is Cree-Métis and is in her fourth year of studies in the family social sciences program. She says while incidents like this this won't change her willingness to speak her mind during class discussions about issues like race, class and sexuality, it makes her wonder if she's going to be targeted.
"Whether I know it or not, somebody could be sitting in that class having these thoughts and having these racist ideas about what Indigenous people are or … just how superior white people are, and I don't know if that's happening or not," said Hallett.
"I don't know what their intentions are in class. I don't know if I'm in harm's way."
'No tolerance for hate and discrimination'
The University of Manitoba is denouncing the posters, which the school president says are part of "a co-ordinated international effort by neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups."
"The university unequivocally condemns this and any other racist actions," David Barnard wrote in a statement sent to media on Friday.
"There is no tolerance for hate and discrimination, as I made clear yesterday in my remarks at the vigil in honour of the shooting victims in Pittsburgh: We share a sense of revulsion and need to act because of what we see happening around us. The treatment of refugees. The tone of anger and hatred in political discourse. The installation of corrupt regimes. A distressing number of hate crimes. Terrorist attacks."
A university must be focused on a search for wisdom and scholarship, which is underpinned by a shared perspective that working together is the best way to achieve that, he said.
"We must fight back against ignorance with knowledge. Against intolerance and racism with inclusiveness and acceptance. Against complacency with our words and our actions," he wrote.
Niigaan Sinclair, an associate professor in the department of Native studies, posted on Facebook that 50 to 100 signs were taped up and faxed to offices in multiple buildings across the campus.
As well, someone used black marker to scribble "F--k Islam" on some walls.
University of Manitoba Students' Union president Jakob Sanderson said security footage shows someone taping the papers on walls on Halloween night.
The person was wearing a costume, making it difficult to identify who it is.
"I think the fact that people are actively taking steps to sort of hide their identity in saying this, and deliver these, really, in a threatening matter … I think it's quite clear that they know this is not acceptable behaviour," Sanderson said.
He urges anyone who comes across a message to report it.
"If any student sees anything like this, if there is any targeted messages like this, please don't hesitate to reach out to the student union, please don't hesitate to reach out to the university."
The university has removed the posters and security services is investigating, Barnard said, adding he believes the messages are part of "a co-ordinated international effort by neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups."
A sharing circle organized by students was held Friday morning to support the Indigenous population on campus, said Native studies department head Cary Miller.
As well, other campus organizations were planning events in support of groups who feel targeted by the messages, she said.
It is enormously disappointing to me that in this era of reconciliation when we should be coming together because we are all treaty people and we are all Manitobans that there are still people who want to provocatively divide us.- Cary Miller, Native studies department head
"I have hesitated to speak on this as it is clear that publicity is what these perpetrators want. However, I think it hurts our affected students more to stay silent," Miller said in an email.
"It is enormously disappointing to me that in this era of reconciliation, when we should be coming together because we are all treaty people and we are all Manitobans, that there are still people who want to provocatively divide us.
"We need brave leaders who will not only publicly condemn these actions but also reject the donations and lobbying efforts of hate groups."
Turning a blind eye or tacitly condoning such actions has, historically, led to escalation and violence, she said, specifically referring to the Second World War.
"But we have lost much of our World War II generation who saw, in no uncertain terms, where hate leads, and we are currently losing the brave warriors of the civil rights struggles of the mid-20th century," Miller said.
"As our cultural memory loses connection to the violence of those moments, we begin to see a return to these cycles of racial divisiveness, and their inevitable outcomes demonstrated so vividly in the United States in the past two weeks."
Students feel unsafe
Sanderson said many students have said they feel unsafe due to the threatening nature of the messages.
"When stuff like this happens, it's quite clear they have a right to be concerned," he said.
"I really do implore all students at this institution to think about … or put themselves in the shoes of their Indigenous partners on campus, of their racialized partners on campus, of their Muslim partners on campus."
The majority of students empathize and understand and see a clear problem with what is happening, he said.
"They want to lend support in any way they can and that's fantastic."
- An earlier version of this story said the faxes had been sent to the Native studies department. In fact, they were sent to the office of the women's and gender studies program, located across the hall from the Native studies department.Nov 02, 2018 6:32 PM CT