Messages saying “it’s okay to be white” have been posted around campus, prompting individuals and the university to react.
The messages posted around campus were often coupled with words encouraging people to vote for congressional candidate Steve King, who in recent weeks has been in the news for endorsing white nationalists.
Other universities around the United States have had “it’s okay to be white” fliers including Tufts University, Harvard University, the University of Vermont and more. The signs and slogans are reportedly linked to white nationalist groups, originating from the online message board 4chan.
“'It’s okay to be white' comes from, No. 1, the insecurity of white nationalist's racial identity, and the situation of fake self victimization, that comes from social ignorance,” said Ashton Ayers, policy director for the College Democrats at Iowa State. “This comes from the same rhetoric Steve King espouses where he says black people are inferior and western civilization is superior and that the ‘white people are becoming a minority’ in their own country and that is somehow something we need to stop.”
In one instance, a chalk drawing encouraging people to “vote against white supremacy” was crossed out by someone else’s chalk with arrows pointing to it calling white supremacy “fake news.”
Leaving just the word vote from the previous message, an individual wrote additional information to make the message say, “vote for Steve King.”
Defacing someone else’s chalk message was something Ayers said should be called out by the university.
“Barring any action I think there should be a statement from the university, on one hand talking about a group defacing the work of another group and on the other hand calling out the frankly racist messages — it is breaching on racism — calling those out would be good,” Ayers said.
John McCarroll, executive director of University Relations, said the fliers posted around campus had been taken down after being reported to campus police, but the chalk drawings were still up and could be investigated.
This is because policies against chalking include rules that messages can’t be displayed vertically or in areas not allowed by the campus, but the contents of the message in question was noted due to its contents and context.
“We have principles of community, we do not tolerate messages that are threatening racially or to any group,” McCarroll said. “These messages are not consistent with the universities position, but we can’t control what people write.”
McCarroll said there is a process for individuals who reported the messages where the Office of Equal Opportunity will reach out to see how an individual was affected by any given message.
Jacob Minock, president of the College Republicans at Iowa State, said he was unaware of the messages being spread and disagrees with people defacing other’s messages.
“The only thing I see with this is that someone is personally crossing out chalk messages [and] that is something I don’t personally agree with,” Minock said.
Minock did not see an issue with the contents of the message however, saying it is equivalent to a message that “it is okay to be insert any other color, or insert literally anything else.”
Kenyatta Shamburger, director of Multicultural Student Affairs, said he has his own personal opinions on the messages, but as a representative of his office he believes students should be able to express their opinions even if they are contrary to his own.
“Just as some of the messages said being white is OK, I think it is fine to say being Latinx is OK, being trans is OK, being African-American is OK, being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community is OK, being Muslim is OK,” Shamburger said.
Ayers disagreed with this saying the messages’ ties to Steve King show that they are rooted in racist ideals.
“It’s not only a vote for Steve King, it’s a vote for Steve King who is a white nationalist and then following it up with it is okay to be white is the problem,” Ayers said. “That is dangerous, this is a university where we had a problem a couple of years ago with people defacing a George Washington Carver statue. And people a year ago with the white nationalist, white heritage posters that went up, it can’t be tolerated it has to be called out and stopped at its root.”
Assistant professor of political science David Andersen said Steve King has shown recent ties to white supremacy and has had a history of standing up against social norms. In the past, King has talked negatively about immigrants and people who are non-white, all while providing “tacet support to white nationalists and white supremacists.”
“I think his recent actions — endorsing a white nationalist in Canada, meeting with white supremacists in Austria — are kind of removing his plausible deniability against these certain beliefs, and that is causing his supporters to back away from him,” Andersen said.
Regardless, Minock said if it doesn’t violate any chalking policy, he does not see a reason for the messages to be taken down.