Against Election Day Backdrop, Leath Again Addresses Racist Posters on Campus

In a YouTube message emailed to students Monday morning, Iowa State University President Steven Leath reiterated the university’s stated commitment to both diversity and the freedom of expression, drawing a connection between the white supremacist posters found around campus a week and a half ago and Election Day tomorrow.

“The 2016 presidential election is arguably one of the most contentious, emotional, and intense elections in history,” Leath said. “It’s ripped open deep societal wounds and ignited fierce debate in our country.” (Of course, this has been caused primarily by the racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric of GOP nominee Donald Trump, a candidate who’s been endorsed by a range of neo-Nazis and Klansmen and also has the support of Leath’s boss and hunting pal, Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter, a Trump policy adviser.)

Then, after acknowledging students’ First Amendment rights, Leath spoke about the posters, some of which had neo-Nazi symbols on them and warned that whites were becoming a minority in the US, a common argument among white supremacists. His criticism of the posters was more strongly worded than an email sent to students after the incident, which referred to the posters as “depict[ing] historical references or messages that could evoke feelings of bias or racism.”

“The posters found on our campus two weeks ago may be factually described as white heritage posters rather than white supremacy posters, because they do not legally violate the First Amendment,” Leath said (nor does hate speech, so ISU could have stuck to just “white supremacy”). “However, as human beings, we recognize those posters as hateful, racist, and bigoted. The message they explicitly and implicitly conveyed defy everything we work for at Iowa State to create an environment where everyone feels welcome, included, and valued. For many people, including me, the posters evoke feelings of anger or disgust. But for others, the posters also generate a real fear for their safety and well-being.

“Please hear me when I say this: Anyone who feels that their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion or political views makes them superior to others is encouraged to find another institution that better aligns with those values. Iowa State is not the place for you.”

Leath’s statement made no mention of the “Build the wall” chant directed at Latina students outside a Campustown restaurant last week.

At 7 p.m. in the ISU Memorial Union’s Sun Room, the university Lectures Committee is hosting a panel “for a proactive discussion designed to raise awareness and understanding about the issues people of color face, especially in their interactions with law enforcement.” Speakers include Department of Public Safety Interim Police Chief Aaron Delashmutt, Ames Police Cmdr. Jason Tuttle, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Reginald Stewart – who signed the original statement about the racist posters with Leath – and Student Counseling Services psychologist Raghav Suri.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.