‘I really hate that the institution I left my home for has this issue,’ black University of Utah student says of racist posters

“It’s a reminder that there are people who do not want them in certain places,” U. professor says.

The University of Utah office tasked with promoting campus diversity on Friday condemned two racist flyers that were posted and pledged to continue working for social justice.

The flyers were found at the Student Life Center — one taped on the wall of the center and another taped crudely over an advertisement near the building.

“We are outraged, we are saddened, by these overt expressions of hate,” according to an Office of Equity and Diversity message posted to Facebook on Friday.

The first poster was reported to the university via Twitter about 9 p.m. Aug. 1, according to university spokeswoman Brooke Adams. A second poster was reported via Twitter about 8 p.m. Aug. 2.

By the time university officials responded to each report, the posters had been removed, Adams said in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday.

The university has an approval process for posting flyers on campus, Adams said, and unauthorized posters are removed.

Campus police “were notified and have taken a report,” she said.

Text on the poster said “Stop the blacks” and listed unverified crime statistics. A link to a website directs to a manifesto written by a white nationalist group called Vanguard America. Vanguard Utah confirmed that the posters found at the U. are associated with it.

Although the flyers were posted last week, according to the university, the signs recirculated on social media Thursday. A university student, Shaniece Brazwell, posted on Facebook to warn her friends. 

“I really hate that the institution I left my home for has this issue,” Brazwell said Friday. She said this is the most brazen racism she has seen on campus, and that the University of Utah is not the only school to deal with racism, but she added, “It‘s worrying, because I thought I’d be safe.”

Brazwell is going into her final year at the U. and came to Utah from Arizona to study dance and nutrition. She has experienced racism, she said, but not on campus until now. 

“I‘d never seen that, but maybe people are just getting a little bit more bold,” Brazwell said.

Paul White, a black psychology professor who began teaching at the U. in 1995, said he can recall other instances with flyers and comments that were similar to this one, though he couldn’t remember details about them.

“Sadly, it doesn‘t make me feel more unsafe, because it’s almost par for the course,” White said. “... I’m used to it. It does still bother me.”

White said he can see this incident “becoming an issue” for students “because it‘s another thing they have to deal with. It’s a reminder that there are people who do not want them in certain places.”

Law professor Erika George, who has been with the U. for 14 years and is black, said this is the first time she has seen something ”targeting a particular ethnic group with this level of specificity” in such an ”open, public” place on campus.

Posters like these have popped up at campuses across the nation, George said, but it feels particularly ”alarming” for people who belong to “small minorities,” such as black people at the U.

While White finds this occurrence disappointing, he said he hopes it can help generate a discussion about race issues in a “safe learning environment” and help people from different groups have a “growing respect for each other.”

The university provides counseling for students who feel threatened by such messages, said another U. spokeswoman, Annalisa Purser. The Office for Equity and Diversity “is always keeping up to date on these types of issues,” she added, saying that students may report racist messages to the office’s staff.

“It‘s an alarm when things like this happen, because Utah is always trying to promote unity and diversity, and all of a sudden things like this happen,” said Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP’s Utah branch. 

The posters have an impact outside Utah, as well, Williams said. The NAACP receives phone calls from people asking about race relations in the state while they decide whether to move to Utah. Her office has received calls about the posters, she said.

But the university handled the situation well, she said, by releasing a condemnation of the flyers.

The university also released a statement to news media on Thursday evening that listed support services such as those offered by the Office for Inclusive Excellence and the counseling center.

“Although we encourage freedom of speech and critical conversations, the university does not tolerate hateful speech or discrimination against any part of our campus community,” Purser wrote in the statement.

University police did not respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

“I don‘t think there’s enough information about this incident to really follow up on these posters, specifically,” Purser said.

University officials met Friday to discuss how to best support the campus community in wake of the incident, Adams said.

“Understandably, U. administrators want to assure our students that all our work of creating a safe, welcoming and equitable campus will proceed — with passion,” Adams said.

Although a lot of the responses to Brazwell’s Facebook post have been negative, she said she has received a lot of support as well. 

“I hope it starts a healthy, positive, nonthreatening conversation,” she said. 

— Reporter Mariah Noble contributed to this story.