“It’s okay to be white” signs stir controversy on campus, around country

Signs were found posted on Tulanes campus Wednesday morning, as well as in Boston, Alberta, and Rocky River.

Signs were found posted on Tulane’s campus Wednesday morning, as well as in Boston, Alberta, and Rocky River.

Editor’s Note: The Hullabaloo editorial staff acknowledges that running this article on the front page of our paper and online in some ways plays into what the posters of the signs initially wanted: inciting outrage, prompting condemnation and dividing our community. Nonetheless, we felt that ignoring the events that transpired on campus Wednesday morning would be to ignore the voices of students who felt (and who feel) unheard. Through what we believe to be truthful and accurate reporting, we hope to amplify those voices.

Sophomore Zahra Saifudeen woke up early the morning after Halloween to get breakfast before her exam. As she approached the Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life, she spotted something that stood out among the various homecoming windows and student organization signs. It was a collection of flyers that read, in large capital letters, “It’s okay to be white.”

Saifudeen, who is also the treasurer of Finding Intersectionality Together, said the signs furthered sentiments she already had as a student of color at Tulane.

“I, if it was even possible, felt more isolated than I have already,” Saifudeen said.

Students reported seeing signs on the homecoming windows of multicultural organizations, bulletin spaces, residence halls and academic buildings. Several signs were subsequently removed by students, Tulane University Police Department officers and LBC employees.

“Upon notification, [the signs] were immediately taken down, as they violated our signage policies for the LBC,” LBC Director Heather Seaman said. “This is our standard practice for any signs that are posted on the building without approval.”

Resident directors advised student resident advisors to take down any signs they saw in residence halls and to inform RDs of locations where the signs were found.

Lani Nguyen, junior and vice president of the Asian-American Student Union, had recently painted a homecoming window for AASU when she found out through her organization’s GroupMe that a sign had been posted on the window they had painted.

Because I was part of the whole window thing, and I have been like every year that I’ve been here at Tulane … it’s something that at least coming from [a Multicultural Council] group is really awesome because we don’t get a lot of publicity at Tulane …” Nguyen said. “It just really sucks to have it not be as much of a good thing.”

The sign’s message was written in a simple font on plain white pieces of office paper. Though the signs are aesthetically plain, their origin is believed to be rooted in a larger campaign.

A thread on 4chan, an online messaging forum, posted on Tuesday afternoon, outlines a plan to distribute and publicly post signs reading, “It’s okay to be white.” The thread called for participants to post the signs on Halloween while wearing costumes to maintain anonymity.

Since Wednesday morning, the message has appeared across the country. Signs and stickers bearing the same message have been found in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Rocky River, Ohio; the University of Alberta; Auburn University; and Western Washington University.

“I heard that this same thing happened on other campuses nationwide, which means it was organized, which is scary …” sophomore Desiree Isles said. “Some white people really do not understand the struggles we go through and don’t believe white privilege exists. This feels like our problems don’t matter, but there are so many things holding us back.”

The stated goal of the thread was to prompt media coverage, with the hope that any negative coverage would result in “normies realiz[ing] that leftists & journalists hate white people.” The thread is tagged “/pol/,” or “politically incorrect.”

Some students expressed concern with the forum’s aim to elicit and observe reactions of critics to the signage.

“Posting signs around campus that polarize groups of people, waiting to hear how people of color react, are parts of a larger system on campus that impacts our students,” Khristyan Trejo, junior and Undergraduate Student Government vice president of student life, said.

Tulane offices and administrators remain unclear about who is behind the signage. According to Mike Strecker, executive director for Tulane public relations, President Mike Fitts’ office is currently reviewing available video surveillance footage to determine the responsible parties.

“To state the obvious, it is ‘okay’ to be any race,” Strecker said. “We have no idea who posted the signs, but that person is obviously not speaking for Tulane University. Tulane is firmly committed to diversity and to supporting every member of our community.”

While administrators look through the footage, some students of color are continuing to process what the signs mean for them as students at a predominantly white university.

“I think our campus and our society tells us as people of color that it’s not okay to be people of color,” Saifudeen said. “So to see a confirmation and a piece of paper that says it’s okay to be white is just — it’s not okay to be a person of color, but it’s okay to be white.”  

For others, the presence of the signage was less surprising.

“Like, yes, we’ve known historically it’s okay to be white,” Sydney Monix, junior and Students Organizing Against Racism outreach chair, said. “We’ve always known it’s okay to be white. It’s never been okay to be LGBTQIA or to be black or to be Latinx or so on and so forth. So it was just like, ‘okay thanks for the racist PSA reminder.'”

“I was like ‘okay, just another day on Tulane’s campus like somebody being blatantly ignorant and supporting white supremacy,’ like there’s nothing new here,” Pearl Dalla, sophomore and USG Gender and Sexuality Advisory Council chair, said.

Dalla added that in the context of her experiences as a student of color at Tulane, “It’s just like numbing at this point.”

Senior Trey Lopez, too, said he believed the signs were not unexpected in light of similar events that have happened on campus in the past.

“I was disappointed but not shocked, knowing a lot of the people that go here,” Lopez said. “You know, you see a lot of these things in minor ways like that Trump wall one of the frats did a year or two ago. But I hadn’t really seen anything like that more recently, so it’s just another reminder that kind of culture exists here, which is sad.”

A prominent issue some students said surrounded the event was the lack of understanding as to why the signs were offensive to students.

“Aside from … what that particular poster is saying directly, ‘it’s okay to be white,’ it’s also saying it’s not okay to not be white,” Nguyen said. “I have talked to some people who’ve mainly been white who first saw it like didn’t know how to interpret it at first.”

While many students of color felt more directly affected by the signs, white students have also expressed confusion and concern.

“White people are not oppressed, and there is no reason that needs to be said in a time where people of color are being oppressed everywhere around us,” senior Alexa Price said. “It’s actually absurd that someone would think that is appropriate to post all over a college campus or anywhere, for that matter.”

Nguyen echoed Price’s concern that the severity of the signs’ impact was not fully recognized or addressed, especially due to their placement on some multicultural organization windows, like the AASU window.

“I think it’s frustrating how the LBC addressed it more as a policy-breaking issue on poster policy and not an attack to minorities on campus,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen added, “I felt personally attacked just because I painted our window, and we all felt really strongly that ‘wow this is not just indirect … these posters or whatever are all over the place on Tulane, but they’re also specifically targeting multicultural orgs.'”

Freshman Juan Olarte-Cortes first saw the signs on a friend’s Snapchat story but did not realize they were on Tulane’s campus. He found out later through The Hullabaloo’s online coverage that the signs had been posted on campus buildings, and said he believed the signs were not necessarily warranted.

“I’m not white, so I can’t speak on [this], but I don’t feel that there is systemic oppression against white people,” Olarte-Cortes said. “Prejudice against white people is a thing, but especially at Tulane … Tulane’s campus does not make it uncomfortable to be white.”

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