Providence of posters, stickers, business cards under investigation
By Arianna Parks & Brett Friedensohn
Staff Writer, Editor-in-Chief
After a white nationalist campaign posted promotional material around the County College of Morris campus the weekend of Saturday, March 24 and Sunday, March 25, CCM administration has taken steps to remove the propaganda and alert the community about the unsanctioned materials.
As part of the ongoing investigation, campus officials found footage of an individual who they suspect may have been behind the canvasings in the Student Community Center, Cohen Hall, and the patio outside the Music Technology Center.
Public safety surveillance has shown an unidentified male taking pictures of the propaganda which was taken down immediately by the college, according to CCM President Dr. Anthony Iacono. He said that since the administration was unable to find video of the suspect posting the paraphernalia. CCM has chosen to not release his image.
Vice President of Student Development and Enrollment Management Dr. Bette Simmons said that the college was unsure if this individual was a student and that if the administration had proof of him posting the messages, they would have shared the surveillance footage with the Randolph police and look into prosecuting him with a bias crime.
Identity Evropa, a group which the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League classify as a white supremacist hate group, posted Tweets showing pictures of propaganda campaigns at colleges in various parts of the country including CCM Wednesday, March 28, when the college decided to release statements consisting of social media posts and a mass email from Iacono to all students, faculty, adjuncts, staff, and administrators.
The group, established in 2016, targeted in its March campaign Rutgers University; University of Minnesota, Duluth; Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, Oklahoma; and University of California, Berkeley.
Simmons said that this is not the first time such material has appeared on campus, citing an incident where the college has been targeted with hate speech has occurred in the past few years including a live demonstration by a hate group in front of the Learning Resource Center. According to Simmons, during that incident fist fights almost broke out. CCM decided to publish an official statement on this incident because the group made it public on social media.
“I think the one thing that is consistent here at CCM is that the moment we find out about whatever the organization’s doing, we act immediately,” Simmons said. “And so in this particular case, we knew that those posters had been here on campus over the weekend, and then, quickly over the weekend, we removed them. It wasn’t until the organization posted it on social media that the rest of the world, if you will, found out about it. And that’s pretty much been our action in the past is as soon as we find out that there’s graffiti on the walls or posters or people coming onto campus, we respond immediately. We may not necessarily communicate that out to the whole campus because it comes a point where we don’t need to.”
In his email on the incident sent to the campus community, Iacono stated that the college stands for inclusion and diversity. Iacono said he considered it an incident both “repulsive and unacceptable.” He said that anyone who finds more of the propaganda on campus should immediately contact public safety at 973-328-5550.
“It has no place at our college and should have no place in any corner of the world,” Iacono said. “Regardless of which group is being targeted, hate is hate and it is always wrong.”
Asian Student Association President Stephanie Yang said that the individual or individuals responsible for the propaganda posting should be ashamed of themselves.
“I’m very disappointed in why these people are just showing white supremacy in this school, and I am quite sad knowing that there’s people that are full of culture, full of life, I’m full of culture, full of life that I want to show my culture towards the school,” said Yang, an education psychology major at CCM. “But then, they’re just showing that and trying propaganda, that’s going to tear down the whole thing making racial comments and battles against one another.”
Yang said that she appreciated Iacono’s response to the situation.
“As I read it, I was like, ‘That’s very mature of him to say that,’ and he was also very calm,” Yang said. “I get the feeling that he was writing it in a sort of calming way to calm people down.”
Frankie Domoanico, a social sciences major, said that he finds this matter particularly interesting because he studies hate groups through organizations including the SPLC in his spare time and that it relates to his major and the courses he has taken in sociology.
“I can’t believe this,” Domoanico said. “[Iacono] is combating the issue, like ‘this is repulsive behavior,’ and it is.”
Dr. John Williford, chair of the psychology and education department and adviser to CCM’s Black Student Union said that while he disagrees with the groups’ arguments, the canvassing is important to ongoing cultural dialogue.
“I believe it is imperative to have discourse,” Williford said. “You listen to people, and then I think you rise above the fray and speak into people’s lives.”
Williford said that through discourse, cultures can learn from one another. As a student in elementary school he experienced a segregated school system. Being an advisor to the BSU at CCM, Williford guides his students to perpetuate love and participate in meaningful intercultural conversations.
“Don’t just shut people down,” Williford said. “Engage in fruitful discourse.”
Iacono said that Kathleen Burnet Eagan, director of marketing and public relations at CCM, helped him construct the college’s statements and that different branches of the college communicated in response to this.
“We sit down and meet with each other, so it’s not just Dr. Simmons’ area, it’s going to be communicated with my office, with Ms. Burnet Eagan, we meet with security, security, depending on what the issue is is going to communicate with local authorities, or we may contact other schools who are having this issue as well,” Iacono said.
Burnet Eagan said that communication strategies in these incidents depend on the specifics of the given incident.
“It depends very much upon the situation,” Burnet Eagan said. “In this case, we used social media because that’s where it was cropping up was on social media, mainly on Twitter, so we responded on Twitter and Facebook because we have a large audience on Facebook.”
Simmons, who handles student discipline, said that there are different appropriate ways one should handle hate speech in the classroom depending on the context and that in the appropriate setting, the classroom can be an appropriate place for civil discourse about these issues.
“It doesn’t mean that if someone’s really emotional about whatever their thoughts are, that means that we then would remove you from the class because it is spewing hate but rather how does a faculty member contains it in a way so that there is a healthy discourse and that it’s keeping to the discussion of the classroom,” Simmons said.
In some cases, however, Simmons said that these kinds of comments can be disruptive.
“If all of a sudden in a math class, a student starts blurting out things of this nature, we wonder, what’s the appropriateness of this in the classroom?” Simmons said. “So then, the student becomes disruptive. So there’s a difference between ‘I’m expressing my opinion’ and ‘I’m disrupting the teaching and learning environment.’ So the behavior of disruption would lead to ‘let’s pull you out and bring you over to my area.’”
Iacono, who began his career in higher education as a history professor at Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce, Florida in the 1990s, said that this type of mindset reflects a pattern in American history of discrimination of groups including Irish immigrants, African-Americans, and Native Americans.
“In a lot of ways the United States has made tremendous progress,” Iacono said. “Yet we have an enormous amount of work we still have to do in this country.”