UT Town Hall Addresses Anti-Immigrant and Anti-Muslim Campus Posters

During a town hall-style forum hosted by UT president Greg Fenves on Wednesday, students voiced their concerns about religion, race, and immigration on campus, many of them saying that the administration was not doing enough to ensure their safety.

“How do you expect marginalized students to feel at UT after hearing your meaningless platitudes?” one student asked. “We have lost all hope in the administration. You say you are proud [that] students have stood up to injustices—but students have had to do it all on their own.”

The town hall came in light of posters discovered on three campus buildings and a utility pole last week that contained the messages “imagine a Muslim-free America” and “A notice to all citizens of the United States of America, it is your civic duty to report and and all illegal aliens to U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement—they have broken the law.”

Although the university does not know if the signs were posted by any individual from the campus community, the American Vanguard, a white supremacist group not affiliated with UT, claimed responsibility.

UT took down the posters and released an initial statement noting that posting signs on campus buildings was not allowed and only students are permitted to post signage on approved spaces. The statement was almost immediately criticized by many from the campus community for neglecting to condemn the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant messages, prompting UT to issue an updated statement and Fenves’ call for the town hall. In an interview with Texas Standard, Fenves said that though the campus is committed to free speech, the posters’ messages were abhorrent.

“Any message that’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-Black, anti-Semitic—these types of beliefs I don’t believe belong on our campus and they don’t belong in American society,” he said.

At Wednesday’s forum, Fenves was joined by Executive Vice President and Provost Maurie McInnis, Vice President for Student Affairs Soncia Reagins-Lilly, and Gregory J. Vincent, vice president for of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.

Many students questioned whether the administrators understood the degree to which they felt unsafe on campus. They said messages like the ones on the poster were not a matter of free speech but should be considered hateful and threatening.

“This isn’t an issue of offense. I wasn’t offended when I saw the poster,” one student said, criticizing UT’s failure to offer resources for students’ physical safety and mental health. “As a Muslim student I was fearful. Campus safety should be UT administration’s top concern. This is about hate speech that calls for the elimination of people for their religious beliefs.”

Speakers also cited a lack of administrative action regarding numerous racially charged incidents that happened on campus in recent years. Students listed cases like the Young Conservatives of Texas’ game of “catch an illegal immigrant” in 2013, the Daily Texan‘s Trayvon Martin cartoon in 2012, and the Fiji fraternity’s “border patrol” party in 2015. One student noted that unlike some other universities, UT has no hate crime policy.

“There are either no investigations that take place after cases like these—or if there are, there is minimal transparency,” another student said. “There is no accountability, there is no action to punish individuals. Students are just left to deal with the consequences of these actions. If these incidents happen again tomorrow, what will change?”

Reagins-Lilly said that UT is in the final stages of implementing a biased incident policy, agreeing that one should already exist. Vincent said the students were right to call out the administration for the things they have not done and are right to hold them accountable.

“One of the things that makes this country great is the ability to talk about different ideas,” Vincent said. “But you all are right—there is no place for hate speech and no place for terrorism. You have our commitment to make sure that going forward we are going to take every action necessary to make all of you feel safe and that terrorism in any form is not welcome.”

Photo courtesy of Marsha Miller. 


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