‘It’s OK to be white’ posters rattle Clark College

Students, staff angry, frightened by signs tied to alt-right movement

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

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The appearance of “It’s OK to be white” and similar posters on the Clark College campus left students and staff feeling frightened, angry and threatened, members of a crowded audience said at a community forum Wednesday.

As first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting, “It’s OK to be white” posters first appeared on campus in early November, about a week before demonstrators waved signs bearing the slogan on an Interstate 5 overpass in Vancouver. “It’s OK to be white” posters have also been spotted on Washington State University’s Pullman campus and at other colleges across the country.

In response, Clark College hosted two community forums this week, collecting ideas on how to make students of color feel more secure on campus going forward.

Ophelia Noble, founder of nonprofit group The Noble Foundation, called the forums and the crowds they drew a turning point.

“I think it shows diversity is what’s needed,” she said. “I feel that having the community represented in this room and respected in this space is a beautiful thing.”

The posters’ appearance at Clark College appear to make it the latest target in a widespread effort to encourage white Americans to support the far right. The Washington Post detailed the proliferation of “It’s OK to be white” posters across college campuses as a concentrated effort by the alt-right to recruit people into white nationalist circles. Posters on 4chan, an online forum which originated the meme, reasoned that white Americans would see news reports and criticism from minority groups as proof the media and liberals hate white people, creating a straw man to rally against and help persuade people toward far-right, white nationalist and white supremacist politics.

Dolly England, the college’s diversity outreach chair, recalled the frustration she felt finding an “It’s OK to be white” poster down the hall from the college’s office of diversity.

“This is my community,” England said. “Now not only do I have to think about it at work, but I have to think about it in my community.”

Hector Reyes, a chemistry instructor on campus, gave a passionate plea that the audience recognize racist and white supremacist imagery. It may look innocuous at first, like these posters, “but we need to understand these things,” he said.

Seeing racist posters on campus has made him feel less safe at the college, he said.

“For me, it’s a matter of my own life,” Reyes said. “It’s a matter of self-defense. It’s not an abstract philosophy. This is very real.”

Tre Sandlin, an accessibility technician in Clark College’s Disability Support Services office, said the posters were designed to divide people of color and white people on campus.

“I wear the face of an oppressor,” he said. “I wear of the face of a slaver, of a rapist. I don’t want to be those things, but that can be very threatening to those who might be affected by it.”

Community engaged

In addition to the “It’s OK to be white” poster, fliers reading “Make your ancestors proud” and “America’s founders were great men” were also posted on campus. A subhead reads “Never feel guilty for our nation’s history,” and attributes the posters to a group called America First Media, a website co-founded by white nationalist James Allsup, former president of the college Republican club at WSU’s Pullman campus.

According to The Spokesman-Review, Allsup is largely credited for radicalizing the conservative college group, and stepped down from his position after attending an August white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. That rally dissolved into violence, including the death of a 32-year-old woman when a driver plowed his car into protesters.

Allsup’s website features video blogs and podcasts “dedicated to traditionalism, Americanism, and Western civilization.”

“I don’t know the person that put these up but whoever did is doing great work and every American should be proud,” Allsup said when reached via Twitter on Wednesday.

Loretta Capeheart, associate vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, said she felt nauseous when she first spotted the posters.

But, Capeheart said, Wednesday’s forum suggests the Clark College community is engaged and ready to support the school’s diverse student body.

“We’re going to make it clear that hate is not welcome on this campus, in this city,” she told the packed crowd.