President Martin Condemns Racist Posters in McGuire
Issue   |   Wed, 11/30/2016 - 00:12

President Biddy Martin sent an email to the college community on Wednesday, Nov. 16 condemning two unauthorized posters discovered in McGuire Life Sciences Building on the preceding Tuesday. The posters depicted ideas related to phrenology, a study that uses differences in skull shapes and sizes to justify racial disparities. Phrenology has been widely discredited as an obsolete and unscientific defense of racism.

“I condemn the racism and cynical mean-spiritedness of those who hung the posters in the strongest possible terms,” Martin wrote in her statement.

Images of the posters, hung in McGuire next to other flyers advertising on-campus events or research opportunities, were circulated on social media and generated outrage among students. Both posters contained graphics that showed differences in skull and sizes, and one suggested their link to lower IQ among people of African descent. Both contained a link to a website that promotes white supremacy, anti-semitism and other “alt-right” beliefs.

One of the posters had been discovered by Kristi Ohr, the college’s chemical hygiene officer and laboratory coordinator, on the bulletin board on the third floor of McGuire near the building’s central entrance. Ohr had taken the poster down and sent scanned images to Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Norm Jones and campus police, though she said she did not know what happened to the original.

According to Martin’s statement, efforts to identify the person or people responsible for putting up the posters are still ongoing. Martin also wrote that the responsible party either did not understand that phrenology is outdated and discredited or that they had put them up as a deliberate provocation.

“They are playing a propaganda game — a dangerous and hurtful game, but a game nonetheless,” Martin said, adding that the incident aimed to distract students from their education and well-being and, in doing so, confirm the idea that colleges are “bastions of hyper-sensitivity and repressive political correctness.” She ended the statement by exhorting students to continue learning and creating change, and not to “take the bait.”

Kaitlyn Tsuyuki ’18, who had been among the early students to circulate images of the posters on social media, said she was pleased with Martin’s statement, which “was passionate — to the point that she could be passionate about something like this happening on her campus.” Tsuyuki added that while some students thought Martin’s statement was not strong enough in its condemnation, she understood that Martin had to represent a student body with a range of different viewpoints.

“I think a lot of people assume that because we’re a liberal arts campus … bad ideas can’t spread here — and not only bad ideas, but specifically outdated, racist ideas,” Tsuyuki said, noting that many buildings on campus are accessible to the public and that the posters could have been put up by someone from outside the college community.

Bulaong Ramiz, director of the Multicultural Resource Center, agrees with Martin’s assertion about the motivations of the people behind the original posters.

“This is propaganda intended to bait a reaction during a highly sensitive time in our country,” she said.
Since the Nov. 8 presidential election, in which Republican nominee Donald Trump became the U.S. president-elect, reported incidents of racially motivated attacks and other acts have increased across the country, including on college campuses.

In the aftermath of the posters’ discovery, dozens of faculty and staff in the college’s science departments in McGuire and Merrill Science Building signed a poster of their own, pledging their support for students.

“I think that divisive and hateful propaganda should be countered with declarations of unity and love, which is what I believe the posters signed by the faculty and staff [of Merrill and McGuire] are intended to be,” said Ohr.