Statement on the Noose found in Allen Hall
The Graduate Employees’ Organization at UIUC, Local 6300 AFT/IFT, condemns the placement of a noose in an elevator in Allen Hall over Labor Day weekend. Given the climate in the United States in which white supremacist/fascist groups and individuals are emboldened to take over public space, and in some cases have murdered and assaulted people, many students, faculty, alumni and staff members have expressed deep concern about this noose incident. Historically, in the United States a noose is a symbol of lynching used by white supremacists to terrorize Black people. We share the concern of the Department of African American Studies at UIUC over the fact that “University and local authorities failed to issue a statement and an emergency alert about the noose immediately after the news broke about the incident.”
Given the history of UIUC as a haven for and target of white supremacists and fascists, it is urgent that the University take robust action to make this campus an unsafe place for racists to operate. This is an area of the country that was shaped by white supremacist settler colonization, sundown towns, anti-Black restrictive covenants and other forms of housing discrimination, segregation, and exclusion. There were lynchings in this area during the period historians call the Nadir. There was a Ku Klux Klan student group on campus at the height of Klan power in the 1920s. This student group was so accepted that it is featured in both the 1920 and 1921 Illinois yearbooks. Klan meetings took place throughout Champaign County in the 1920s and there was at least one mass Klan rally in Urbana in 1924. This was the same time period in which the university held racist “hobo parades” during Homecoming celebrations, in which students dressed in blackface and as other demeaning racial and ethnic stereotypes. This was the same time period in which white band leaders invented the racist “Chief Illiniwek” mascot/symbol as entertainment for whites at university athletic events: a symbol of racism that lingers in this community due to the university administration’s failure to take a strong, unequivocal stand against racist mascotry, and due to the administration’s cowardice exemplified by the fact that the “Chief” mascot was never replaced with a new mascot so as not to anger racist wealthy donors.
These are not things of the past. There was a “White Student Union” Facebook page made by UIUC students, which targeted specific Black students on campus. There have been incidents such as members of the College Republicans’ holding an “Affirmative Action Bakesale,” members of Turning Point USA bringing an “alt-right” fascist operative to campus to show an explicitly anti-immigrant film, and members of Turning Point USA staging an anti-migrant “Build a Wall” stunt on the quad. In another incident, members of the College Republicans chalked racist slogans such as “Build the wall,” “Sharia Free Zone,” and the old US Nazi Party and Klan slogan “America First” all over the sidewalks on the quad and even in front of La Casa, a Latinx space on campus. There have been assaults against Palestinian students carried out by anti-Palestinian students. Islamophobes have ripped hijabs off of Muslim women’s heads on campus and near campus. On the very day that the news of the Christchurch massacre was breaking in the United States -- an incident in which a fascist gunman massacred innocent people at a mosque in New Zealand -- when it was revealed that the shooter cited a leader of Turning Point USA as his ideological inspiration, the president of the UIUC Turning Point USA chapter stood on the quad holding a sign that said, “Hate Speech is Free Speech.” There have been incidents of swastika graffiti on campus. Far right operatives have targeted anti-racist undergrads, grad students, and professors with online smear campaigns. Through all of this the University administration has been silent or complicit, at the very least throwing up their hands and saying, “free speech” while marginalized groups on campus are terrorized by “alt-right” and “alt-light” fascists. This list could go on and on. This recent noose incident is another in a long string of actions by white supremacists and fascists to create a hostile climate on campus for students of color. There is nothing funny, cute, or edgy about it. It is crass white supremacy.
This incident and the several others like it must be viewed within this larger context of the history of white supremacy at UIUC and the string of “alt-light”/fascist/white supremacist provocations of the past few years into the present. And all of this must be recognized as part of a global fascist resurgence from the United States, to Brazil, to Italy, to Turkey, to India and beyond. UIUC must take a side. Silence and inaction is complicity.
The university administration has been so soft on white supremacist/fascist activity on campus that neo-Nazi/white supremacist groups from out of town have, within the past two years, decided to use this campus as a platform from which to recruit. There have been several flyering campaigns carried out by neo-Nazi groups from places such as neighboring Indiana, targeting the UIUC campus and surrounding area. Over Labor Day weekend a member of the Champaign County Board had to go out by himself to remove over a dozen Nazi flyers that were posted around campus. So emboldened are these neo-Nazis that one group of them last November took a group photo of themselves posing in front of the Alma Mater statue, and they subsequently posted the photo to social media as a signal to like-minded fascists that UIUC is a safe place to organize.
It is not enough for the university administration to simply issue milquetoast, lawyer-vetted mass mails declaring the university “inclusive.” In order to make this a healthy environment in which to work, study, learn, experiment, research, teach, and socialize, the university can not merely be inclusive of historically marginalized groups, but it also must be an unwelcoming space for “alt-right” fascists, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and others of their ilk. Fascists/white supremacists should not feel emboldened to terrorize and antagonize members of our community or to use our campus as a platform for their activities. Imposing real, substantive consequences for white supremacist and otherwise fascist provocations on campus is one small step in the right direction.
Concerning the noose incident, the GEO stands resolutely on the side of Black Students for Revolution, the Black United Front, and Illini Student Government leaders in their demands for:
Immediate dismissal of student(s) responsible for a period of at least two years.
The regular public reporting of all racist incidents that are reported to administration and housing.
Review of policies related to the discipline of perpetrators of racial hatred, made in conjunction with affected student communities.
In addition to these three demands we call on the university administration to openly, unequivocally, and specifically denounce groups and individuals that target our campus community with things like racist flyers, “Chief” imagery, racist provocations/threats, and racist/anti-Black/anti-migrant/Islamophobic publicity stunts on campus. These “alt-right”/”alt-light” groups have enjoyed the silence, and in some cases active complicity, of the university administration for too long.
In calling for these demands we want to be clear that by “racist incidents” and “racial hatred,” we are specifically referring to anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous sentiment and imagery (including “Chief” imagery), anti-migrant sentiment, Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian sentiment, anti-Semitism, and other forms of abuse and antagonism that specifically target groups that have historically been unjustly marginalized and vilified in the United States. We are not talking about “reverse racism” or “anti-white racism,” both of which are nonsense concepts invented by white supremacists to divert from the real issues.
As a labor union, we see this as a workplace issue. This university is a learning environment but also a working environment. We will not stand silently by while our workplaces are overrun by malicious white supremacist, fascist, and “alt-right/alt-light” organizations and individuals. As the famous labor unionist of Spain’s Confederación Nacional del Trabajo Buenaventura Durruti said during a period when fascist parties were ascending, “Fascism is not to be debated, it is to be destroyed.” No pasaran!
The Graduate Employees’ Organization, AFT/IFT Local 6300, AFL-CIO, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, represents approximately 2,700 Teaching and Graduate Assistants on the UIUC Campus. In November 2009 and in February 2018, over 1,000 GEO members and allies participated in a strike to secure a fair contract and more accessible UIUC campus. With an active presence in the community, the GEO continues to work for high-quality and accessible public education in Illinois.
For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can also be found on GEO’s website at www.uiucgeo.org.