On Wednesday night, University of Minnesota-Morris student Peter Truckenmiller was walking through a tunnel to the campus’ science building when he saw a peculiar poster.
It featured three glasses filled halfway. The first glass, labeled “OPTIMIST,” was captioned, “The glass is half full.” The second, “PESSIMIST,” said, “The glass is half empty.” The third, “FEMINIST,” said, “The glass is being raped.”
Above was the label “UMM College Republicans,” and information about where and when the group meets. It concluded with the slogan, “Never be afraid of being right.”
Truckenmiller took a picture of it and posted it on Facebook. This is his third year at the university, and it's far from the first off-putting College Republicans poster he’s seen. Last year, he encountered one featuring two stick figures, one of them in a dress. “Never be afraid of being right,” it said, “Even when it comes to the only two genders.”
He’s tired of seeing them, he says—all these fliers taking pot-shots at women, queer and trans people, those of color, Muslims—and so are his classmates. All week, students have been taking pictures of this latest poster (and several others) and tweeting them at the University of Minnesota-Morris’ official account, demanding the administration do something.
It’s not just the posters. Other students want to know why a conservative student newspaper was allowed to have a regular column with this slur describing trans people in the title.
“Hey admin if you won’t *do* anything can you at least *say* something?” one student tweeted. “Specifically can you say that this bigotry is wrong and unacceptable and has no place at Morris?”
The official account replied with a “thank you” for “bringing this to our attention.” The school didn’t “condone” the language, it said, but it was its “responsibility to foster an environment of free expression."
“That’s a right we hold dear as a University community and as a nation.”
“Yeah, that’s about the response I expected,” the student replied.
College Republicans didn’t respond to interview requests, but there’s a definite impression they know they can get away with this kind of stuff. Conservative websites like Campus Reform and the College Fix had a field day earlier this year when the College Republicans set up a hidden camera to catch students tearing down or vandalizing their posters—including the one about there being “only two genders.”
In previous years, they’ve pressed charges and even taken a student to court for destruction of property. The university’s response amounted to not allowing the student group to secretly record their classmates anymore. The posters continued.
But since the one about feminists and rape went up, more people have been sending outraged tweets the university’s way—ranging from “This is not okay” to “Fuck you.” Alumni jumped in and said similar problems were rampant when they were in school, and they were dismayed to see how little had changed.
By Thursday, the Minnesota College Republicans had weighed in, saying the parent organization was “aware” of the posters, and this was “not the type of discourse the College Republicans seek to promote on campus.” But the school itself was still silent.
It wasn’t until that evening that Chancellor Michelle Behr sent out a statement saying she’d “heard” the students’ concerns about “language and images being used on our campus that inflame and divide.”
“That messaging does not support the welcoming community we seek,” she said. “When we say we support our students and that we value every member of this community, we mean it. While we embrace free expression, we also recognize that exercising this right comes with responsibility.
“Use of intentionally provocative speech impacts our campus and those targeted in the messaging, leading to individuals and student communities feeling invalidated, isolated, and unsafe,” she said. “It isn’t acceptable to treat one another that way.”
There was no mention about whether any posters would come down or the College Republicans would experience any consequences, but Behr assured students that a group was already hard at work on a “campus climate evaluation plan,” and that there would be details about additional programming to come.
“Fun words,” one student commented on Twitter. “Do something about the hate speech now.”
On Friday morning, a source forwarded a message to students from the president of the College Republicans.
“Sometime last night, an inflammatory poster as posted on public boards under our name,” it said. It went on to explain that the poster had somehow bypassed the group’s policy of approving materials via vote. Once it was brought to officers’ attention, it said, the posters were “immediately removed.”
“As to the content of the poster, it adds nothing to the discourse but was deeply offensive, and thus, we don’t condone the content of the poster.”