CDI hosts event to discuss white supremacy on college campuses

Aiden Blinn | Contributing Reporter

The Center for Diversity and Inclusion hosted a meeting, timed with racial conflicts occurring in St. Louis and across the country, to discuss white supremacy on campus open to Washington University students, faculty and staff Oct. 5.

Sociology professor David Cunningham, author of “Klansville, U.S.A.,” opened the meeting with a presentation about the increasing presence of white supremacist groups on college campuses. Following the presentation, participants discussed ways to respond to white supremacist movements, moderated by Assistant Dean of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) Christi Smith.

According to Smith and event participants, the meeting was aptly timed, coming in the wake of racial conflicts within the University, St. Louis and national communities.

“Talking about white supremacist hate movements is very important given recent events here in the U.S., as well as the rise in prominence and political power of far right extremists in many parts of the world,” Smith wrote in an email to Student Life. “Journalists…have drawn attention to the efforts by white supremacist hate groups to recruit on college campuses, and these efforts have increased dramatically since just last year.”

Sophomore Anaya Johnson, who attended the event, noted that the timing of the meeting coincided with political movements both inside and outside of the Washington University community.

“It’s in the wake of the verdict of the [Jason] Stockley trial. It’s in a time where there are a lot of protests happening. It’s in a time where Chancellor [Mark] Wrighton is stepping away from his duties,” Johnson said. “It’s in a time where a lot of different groups on campus are really feeling the need to step up and speak out about things that they are noticing and a lot of the injustices that are happening not just on our campus but in our nation.”

Earlier this semester, Purvi Patel, coordinator of the Bias Report and Support System and assistant director of the CDI, discovered that posters from a white supremacist hate organization had been posted around campus. CDI administrators created the event for local students and faculty to meet and discuss how to react to such hatred on campus.

“We wanted to bring together people with a range of roles here on campus to discuss strategies for opposing white supremacist hate groups and their attempts to recruit and radicalize students. It’s crucial to show resistance,” Smith wrote. “We had Wash. U. faculty, staff and students, and were happy to be joined by area high school teachers and college administrators.”

According to Johnson, the joint presence of educators and students contributed to the success of the CDI’s event.

“Because there were so many faculty members and administrators [at the meeting], they were trying to see how they could help, and then as students we were learning different ways to approach the situations that we go through or different actions that we see on campus,” Johnson said.

According to Smith, discussions about how to address complex political issues require more than just a single meeting, and the CDI’s event was a platform to launch continuing conversations about the presence of white supremacy.

“We were not offering a one-size-fits-all response, but wanted to bring lots of smart, politically active people together to share ideas. We can’t resolve this in an hour,” Smith wrote. “I was heartened to see several participants exchanging contact information and sharing news about the organizations they belong to.”

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