BY MANDEEP HOTHI
White supremacy has no place on a university campus, yet this past October, UC Davis students on their way to class were faced with an upsetting sight: anti-Semitic, white supremacist flyers posted around campus. The flyers claimed that Jewish people were responsible for anything “anti-white, anti-American, anti-freedom” that happens in America, with photo references to high-profile Jewish politicians such as Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer. In a brief response posted on the UC Davis Leadership site, Chancellor Gary May condemned the attacks, stating “the message on these flyers is reprehensible and does not represent who we are as a community.”
The statement included links to mental health and counseling resources that affected students could use, but some claimed this was not enough. The Sacramento Bee drew attention to a UC Davis student expressing their frustration at the situation, stating, “Why aren’t they setting up any sort of public meeting so we can ask our questions about this incident and feel supported? The campus climate towards Jewish students needs to change and it needs to change now.”
There was no initial mention of a public forum at which students could express their grievances and contribute to a greater dialogue to address the white supremacist sentiments, and eventually it was the Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission of ASUCD that organized a small-scale forum at the Cross Cultural Center. It was organized and facilitated by student leaders, with no input from administration.
However impactful students may have found the forum, the fact remains that the UC Davis administration has failed to act in any capacity beyond removing the flyers.
This non-response is by no means unique. The events of 2018 were reminiscent of a similar incident that occurred in Fall Quarter of 2017, when plain white flyers with the message, “It’s okay to be white” were posted on campus. Some were found on garbage cans and areas with expected foot traffic, but a majority had been placed in cultural resource centers such as the Center for African Diaspora Student Success, as well as the Chicanx/Latinx Resource Center.
These centers can be found on most university campuses, usually those that are Predominantly White Institutions. The centers are an attempt at equity for students of color and those from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. The messages of “It’s okay to be white” stamped across their message boards thus sent a clear statement of the intent behind the flyers: to single out these historically disadvantaged students and imply that spaces for minority students are an attack on white people.
The response from the administration at the time came from Chancellor May in the form of an open editorial in The California Aggie, in which he condemned the flyers as an attempt to stoke conflict against white students and, “evidence of growing anti-white discrimination on college campuses.” There was no mention of the minority students that could come away from the experience feeling uncomfortable in the spaces specifically allocated for them. The flyers were taken down, but only because they “were in violation of our campus posting policy, which generally prohibits postings on buildings, walls, windows, and trees—–whether it’s for a political cause or a blood drive.”
The note about the posting policy is mirrored in the 2018 statement, in which May mentions that “the person or persons responsible [for the flyers] violated our posting policy.”
A response from UC Davis student Miles Hall recorded by Davis Political Review last year remains poignant, “We were displeased with their response because we felt it was too focused on the procedural aspect of the posters being taped, it leaves it open that had they been approved, it would’ve been okay to post them with the university seal.”
It has now been close to two months since the anti-Semitic flyer incident took place, and a common response from students is apathy. Inaction from administration is the norm, and if the ones who are paid to address these issues don’t take action, why should everyday students that are already juggling classes, work, and extracurriculars be expected to care? For students personally affected, however, apathy has never been an option. Although the reappearance of racist and anti-Semitic flyers denotes a larger issue of white supremacy on campuses that should ideally inspire a more consequential response by UC Davis administration, there has been no meaningful action taken beyond the brief statement that was released over a month ago. With the ensuing silence from Chancellor Gary May and related administrative staff, it seems likely that the incident will pass into irrelevance once more until the next issue arises, just as the incident from 2017 did. Chancellor May defined it best in his original open editorial: “UC Davis has been and should continue to be a forum for wide-open dialogue on an unlimited range of ideas, including those that many find disturbing.” It is yet to be seen just how far the administration is willing to allow these disturbing ideas to manifest, but from recent trends, it is not looking good for minority students.