As is well documented, assaults on U.S. campuses by white supremacist hate groups have increased steadily in recent years. This fall, the attacks have been coming repeatedly across the country, suggesting a new stage in this war on American universities by those fundamentally opposed to diversity, inclusion, reason, and knowledge.
At Ohio State, our administration has thus far chosen not to respond to the incidents on campus that have targeted various departments and institutions. Their reasoning, it would seem, is that by not responding, they are refusing to “dignify” those targeting our campus with the attention they desperately desire, refusing to magnify the actions of a select few. No doubt, they also recognize that these flyer campaigns are a trap, designed to trigger accusations of “over-reacting” on the part of students, faculty, and administration. By not responding, they believe, they are beating them at their own game.
While I understand the thinking that leads to this kind of paralysis and inaction, history tells us that silence in the face of these forces does not work. And many of these white supremacist flyers are designed to be traps, to be sure; but they are traps that will go off whether we respond to them or ignore them. Why then would the university not want to use its power and resources to resist and educate? If they are going to go off either way, how much better to confront them directly, explaining to the whole community why flyers like “It’s OK to Be White” are not the innocuous statements they pretend to be, but are explicit white nationalist propaganda with origins in the most vile fantasies of race war and genocide. Educators educate: we speak out against those who would attempt to elevate the forces of ignorance and hate. And we have on our side a command of history, language, facts, and reason that those who would infect our campus can only play at.
In the absence of a response from the university, we will continue to organize together. But the failure of the university to address the impact of these attacks on our community—and especially on those most vulnerable to the explicit and implicit threats of white nationalism—is a profound disappointment. The responses of many of our peer institutions have been much more forceful and clear, and I can only hope our university leadership will turn away from a strategy of silence that will only be read as appeasement and assume the leadership we desire and expect.