Get racist hate off Purdue’s campus

January 30, 2017

Bill Mullen, a professor at Purdue University, explains the background to a week-old occupation organized by students protesting against racism at Purdue University.

PURDUE UNIVERSITY students are demanding that President Mitch Daniels condemn white supremacist posters that appeared on campus in November--and they are occupying Hovde Hall, the university administration building, until he does.

The occupation of Hovde Hall began minutes after Donald Trump's inauguration as president of the United States. As many as 80 students, a multiracial group representing international students, LGBT people, socialists and others--have vowed not to leave Hovde until Daniels openly condemns white supremacy and meets four other demands.

The students' demands include: restoration of the University Chief Diversity Officer position that Daniels axed in 2015; a required course in diversity for all Purdue students; a promise that student protesters will not face recriminations; and an investigation into who placed the fliers on campus.

The occupation is the culmination of three successive protests that began November 30, after fliers from the group fascist American Vanguard Reaction appeared on campus.

Students send a message against racism at Purdue University in Indiana
Students send a message against racism at Purdue University in Indiana

A manifesto on the American Vanguard website declares: "We fight for America, but this can never happen unless we win the hearts and minds of our fellow White youth. We want to be at the forefront of the reawakening of White racial consciousness. In order to do this, we must be willing to fight." The manifesto blames Marxists for causing the "rotting" of American society.

The American Vanguard posters display classical fascist themes: white faces over the words "We Have A Right to Exist" and a white male in manacles implored to overcome "white guilt." That poster borrows wholesale an image from a Weimar-era Nazi poster. Other posters on campus read: "Free Yourself from Cultural Marxists" and "Free Yourself From White Guilt."

APPROXIMATELY 120 students, faculty, staff and community members attended an emergency meeting at a public library the night the posters were discovered. Within days, the five demands crafted by students were delivered to the president's office after a large rally outside of Hovde Hall.

Daniels never acknowledged receiving the demands, but he has made a series of remarks that either defend the posters or downplay their significance.

In December, he compared the flyers to "Christmas greetings from ISIS" and dismissed them as "a transparent effort to bait people into overreacting, thereby giving a minuscule fringe group attention it does not deserve, and that we decline to do."

This month, while ignoring the occupation, he said the following about one of the posters during a radio interview: "It said, 'We have the right to exist.' I don't think people are suggesting that someone ought to be exterminated."

As one Purdue faculty member responded, the "right to exist" phrase should correctly be interpreted as: "We as white supremacists have a right to be part of the university life and to use the university campus to campaign for a society where non-white people are deprived of equal rights, and have to submit to white supremacy."

The occupiers have seized on Daniels' remarks to build a movement that has grown larger and more organized each day.

On its first day, the demonstrators elected a negotiating team among themselves, appointed a treasurer to gather and manage funds, declared the hours of the occupation, and scheduled daily public meetings to discuss tactics and strategies.

By January 23, the number of protesters had grown. Local media provided sympathetic coverage of the occupation. By the following day, community members were bringing food and supplies in support, and some faculty members began to bring their classes to the occupation.

On January 25, the administration's "Diversity Leadership Team," including Provost Debasish Dutta, appeared at the occupation to try to talk students into requesting a formal meeting with Daniels as an alternative to the occupation. Students voted to reject that idea.

The occupation also began a series of political meetings, lectures and workshops by faculty and students, on topics ranging from confronting racism, to the Holocaust and gay liberation history, to the politics of solidarity.

DANIELS' OWN right-wing politics have caused outrage and sparked protest on campus in the past.

When he was hired as Purdue president, Daniels recommended that students and faculty read the work of Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, a book based on racist eugenics theory that argues that non-whites are genetically inferior to whites.

Shortly after he was named president, the Associated Press reported that while governor of Indiana--his immediate position before coming to Purdue--Daniels had tried to ban the teaching of historian Howard Zinn at public universities. That led to a "Howard Zinn Read-In" at Purdue that attracted hundreds of students and community members.

In the fall of 2015, fueled by anti-racist protests at the University of Missouri, a wave of student demonstrations against racism at Purdue broke out after comments from Daniels that Purdue, unlike other schools, had no racial problems and was a "discrimination-free community." Students responded by presenting Daniels with testimonials of their experiences of racism on campus that ran more than 100 pages.

Now, Daniels has dug in against the occupation. In recent radio interview, he not only trivialized the fascist posters, but said that he would never support a required course on diversity at Purdue. Daniels, who counts Winston Churchill and Milton Friedman as his intellectual heroes, argued that students needs "choice" about how to spend their tuition, and that diversity simply isn't worth the cost.

None of these dodges are working with student protesters.

Daniels' credibility on diversity has been exhausted not only by his refusal to recognize their demands or meet with them, but by his use of the Purdue president's office to shill for Donald Trump. In the week of the Inauguration Day protest, for example, Daniels appeared on the television show Morning Joe to voice support for Trump Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos.

Like Daniels, DeVos is a public education privatizer--where Daniels helped build the largest school "voucher" program in Indiana as governor, DeVos helped destroy the Detroit public school system--where 84 percent of students are African American--by pushing charter schools.

Purdue student occupiers are also targeting Daniels' "Presidential Lecture Series," which in the past has hosted right-wing fossils like columnist George Will and former Reagan Secretary of State George Schultz. This semester, the lecture series features Bjorn Lomborg, a climate change "skeptic," who has warned of "fear mongering" about climate change and cherry picks data to deny its severity.

The symbolic launch of the Purdue occupation on Inauguration Day is, for many students, a sign of the stakes of their movement: against the spread of white supremacy on their own campus and against alt-right ideas nationally about education, Islamophobia, privatization, nationalism, racism and homophobia.

Like the protests that have sprung up against Trump across the globe, their movement is not going anywhere soon.

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