Stickers advertising white supremacist organization found on campus and in town

By RILEY BOARD

UPDATE — Friday, January 24: In an all-school email this afternoon, Director of Public Safety Lisa Burchard announced that several new stickers, advertising the same white supremacy organization as those found two weeks ago, were found on street signs and lamp posts on Old Chapel Road and South Main Street, and on an outdoor sculpture near the Axinn Center. At least one other sticker was found on the handicap accessibility button outside of Wright Theater. The Department of Public Safety is currently investigating these incidents.

EMMANUEL TAMRAT
A new sticker discovered this afternoon outside of Wright Theater, advertising the same white supremacy organization as stickers found last week.

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Thursday, January 23

COURTESY PHOTO
Several students posted and shared photos of the stickers on social media, circling the QR code that could be used to access the white nationalist group’s website.

Three stickers promoting a white supremacist organization appeared on campus and in the town of Middlebury during the first week of Winter Term. Some stickers linked to a white supremacist website through QR codes. All stickers have since been removed, and the Department of Public Safety (DPS) began an investigation into the dissemination of the stickers. 

The stickers were found on a sign on the outside of the McCullough Student Center, on the outside of the Center for Community Engagement building, and at a Jewish organization in town that asked not to be identified by name. 

The stickers came to the attention of the Community Bias Response Team (CBRT) through a submission in their online reporting system (go/bias) and through the observations of staff and faculty members. 

The CBRT announced the incidents through a student-wide email on Jan. 10. “The views of hate groups, even in the absence of direct action, still cause harm and foster an environment where members of our campus community feel unwelcome or unsafe, especially given ongoing efforts to promote hate and violence within our larger culture,” the email read.

The stickers include a QR code that links to the website of an organization identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist hate group, as well as the group’s logo. This group has organized campaigns to disseminate their stickers and other promotional materials across the country. 

In the all-campus email, the CBRT chose not to identify the group. “We recognize that one of the goals of such organizations is to provoke a reaction and thereby increase the attention the organization receives,” the email reads. 

“One of the main goals of these organizations is to provoke outrage, which leads to different kinds of situations,” said Renee Wells, the college’s director of education for equity and inclusion and a member of the CBRT. “They often provoke institutional statements about those incidents, which then get more widely circulated and are used for publicity by the organization.” 

This is not the first time that Middlebury’s campus has been the target of campaigns by white supremacist oragnizations. In the spring of 2018, fliers with pictures of the confederate flag and Bible verses, also advertising white supremacist organizations, appeared in the Davis Family Library, as well as in several other Vermont public and university libraries. 

“There’s a pretty intentional and sustained effort by these kinds of organizations to target college campuses, so I think we’re always going to be one of the potential targets that exists,” Wells said. 

Paul Flores Clavel ’22 witnessed one of the stickers. “It’s disappointing but not surprising,” he said. “I think we forget Middlebury isn’t immune to white supremacists.”

Wells notes that while the stickers mark a small incident, their connection to an organization whose ideologies have been tied to acts of hate and violence is impossible to ignore. 

“It’s important to know that things like this happen all over the place and they’re not reflections of the institution, the place where it happens, but rather a part of larger cultural tensions and movements,” Wells said. 

In response to the incident, the CBRT hosted a Restorative Circle on the night of Tuesday, Jan. 14. Typically, circles allow spaces for those who have been harmed and those who have caused harm to meet and communicate, although in this case, because the poster of the stickers has not been identified, the circle was simply a space for those impacted to discuss the situation. 

“There’s not much that you can do in terms of prevention, but we can certainly condemn them, whether it’s someone from campus or someone external,” Wells said of the decision to host the circle. “We can condemn it, we can be mindful of the impact.” 

DPS has opened an investigation into the posting of the stickers, because their nature and location violate the college’s policy on decency and vandalism. 

“Stickers placed in this manner are an act of disrespect of college property as well as unlawful mischief, commonly known as vandalism,” Lisa Burchard, director of public safety, said. 

At this time, DPS has interviewed the staff members who found the stickers, but has not been able to identify a responsible person. They believe that the stickers were placed over December break. 

Plans to roll out security cameras in locations across campus by the end of this academic year could increase the likelihood of identifying people responsible for events like this. 

“In the future, there may be a camera near an entrance, and it may contain video footage of an incident such as this one,” Burchard said. “Posting hate material that is designed and intended to intimidate members of our community is a violation of our college policies.” 

Administrators are reviewing a security camera policy right now. Burchard says that the policy has been drafted in a way that will allow DPS to review footage when it related to situations of safety, security, violations of law and violations of college policy.

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