By Kirsten Raper & Troy Stolt, News Editor & Photo Editor –
After acts of vandalism and the defacing of Black History Month posters last week, students have stepped up to make their voices heard about the situation.
Sometime on Feb. 7, Black History Month posters that were put up by Freshman Senate, were defaced and covered up with posters depicting Adolf Hitler doing the Nazi salute. Underneath the images of Hitler, read “Vanguard America,” which according to the Anti- Defamation League is “a white supremacist group that opposes multiculturalism and believes America is an exclusively white nation,” and the group “is particularly focused on recruiting young men and has engaged in unprecedented outreach efforts to attract students on American college campuses.” This group was one of the organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia back in August.
When Allen Deberry, a senior from Memphis, first saw the Vanguard America flyer covering up one of the Black History Month posters, he immediately went to local news station, WTVC News Channel 9 because he “felt the story needed to get out there.” Not only did DeBerry inform members from News Channel 9 about what was happening on campus, he actually took them to talk to Chancellor Steven Angle.
Deberry said that he thinks one of the reasons groups like Vanguard America continue to exist is because they are afraid of change.
“Things have changed so much here in America that most of our generation sees unity and equality as second nature. We hear about segregation and Jim Crow Laws, but we never [actually] experienced it,” he said. “That scares groups like [Vanguard America] because they know things have changed. That’s why they do things like this, because they know those days are over and they’re afraid.”
Like Deberry, Elliott Geary one of the co-chairs for Young Democratic Socialists said that he also thinks fear plays a role in the existence of these groups.
“It’s despicable, but it totally makes sense that this is the way Fascists organize. Their ideology is rooted in fear, fear of other people who aren’t like them, and fear of losing a privileged place in American society,” he said. “The problem is, though, is that their vision of the future is one that’s deeply problematic and racist and seeks to divide people instead of unite them.”
Shortly after the acts of vandalism, SGA President Rachel Emond, UTC Chancellor Steven Angle and UT System President Joe DiPietro all put out statements denouncing racism on UTC’s campus.
Geary said that he especially appreciated Emond and Angle’s statements.
“I thought SGA’s response was very quick. I was amazed at how quickly they worked on coming to a solution and putting out a strong statement against all of this,” Geary said. “I was also pleasantly surprised by Chancellor Angle’s strong stance on all of this. It’s good to know that administrators aren’t going to tolerate any of this bullshit.”
Geary said he has a message for those who might believe ignoring the problem is the best solution.
“I know that a lot of people on social media are saying that the best way to address this kind of thing is to just ignore it; that the Nazis will go away if they don’t get any attention. Historically, I don’t think that has ever been true. I think if you look at the rise of fascism in Italy and Nazi Germany, it was because a lot of the folks were just ignoring what was happening,” Geary said. “I think we need to make it abundantly clear that these people are not welcome here and that their ideas are not welcome here. We as a people need to create a culture that destroys these ideas at the very presentation of them. I think that we need to build solidarity with each other, support each other, and not just turn the other cheek and pretend it’s not happening, when it is. It’s a problem and we need to fix it and address it as a community.
Deberry, on the other hand, said he has a message for Vanguard America and groups like it.
“We are here, we aren’t going anywhere [and] we’re not afraid. What you’re trying to do isn’t working.”