On Monday, students at Gustavus Adolphis College in St. Peter, MN, were shocked to find racist, anti-immigrant posters plastered across several campus buildings. Declaring America a "white nation," the signs urged passers-by to report "any and all illegal aliens to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement." News of the posters reportedly spread on a closed campus Facebook group.
But unlike similar incidents that have occurred on other campuses across the country, these posters weren't the work of white nationalists, or budding Klansmen. Instead, they were a well-intentioned (if unfortunately executed) effort by a campus diversity group to jump-start a conversation on race at the small liberal arts college.
"People did think this was an actual hate crime for a few hours before it was realized," Gustavus-Adolphus junior Tara Robinson said. "So people did respond violently to that." According to the City Pages alt-weekly, many of the posters were immediately ripped down by students.
In a lengthy apology posted to Facebook, the college's Diversity Leadership Council explained that the racist-seeming posters had been plastered by a group subcommittee alongside "A-frames with bystander intervention tips in academic buildings on campus in an effort to help educate our peers and campus community about issues of bias, and the importance of being an active bystander."
The group, which partnered with the school's I Am We Are social justice theater group for the project, also urged the campus to "reflect on today’s events and join us in ensuring that no one student or group of students are ever a victim of this form of discrimination."
For some at Gustavus-Adolphus, however, the project was a major misfire.
"The poster was used to start a conversation without taking into account the real life feelings and experience the Latino community goes through," student Angela Herrera told Southern Minnesota News.com
On Facebook, commenters sounded off on the DLC's apology post with one likening the project to shouting "fire" in a crowded theater "because I want to create awareness."
Speaking with local news station KEYC, JoNes VanHecke, the school's Dean of Student Life, struck a more positive tone.
"I think that there is lots of great conversation happening around campus as people express to each other- students to students- what they think is beneficial and what they think is problematic," VanHecke said.
According to the DLC, their project will conclude on March 23 with a spoken word performance by members of the organization and the I Am We Are troupe. All are invited to attend.