The University of Oregon in Eugene is a pretty fantastic place to be gay; winning a consistent five-out-of-five stars on the Campus Pride Campus Climate Index and boasting a thriving queer student community and Queer Studies program.
But this crazy-ass unacceptable shit happens, y’all, even in Eugene: over the weekend vandals attacked the University’s LGBTQ office with black spray paint, leaving a four-foot square swastika emblazoned on the carpet and spray paint all over the office’s TV and computer monitor. According to The Oregonian, there was no sign of forced entry and the office had last been used by Alex Esparza, co-director of the alliance, who locked the door when he left at 2:45 pm last Friday. The vandalism was discovered by a janitor at 1 A.M. on Monday morning.
LGBTQ Alliance volunteer coordinator (and Autostraddle Intern Warrior Princess) Vashti got a call Monday morning from a co-director. “My reaction was just shock,” Vashti remembers. “I didn’t really know how to feel or process what had happened. It was difficult for me to actually visualize anything like this. On my way to campus this morning, I started to get really nervous and apprehensive. I didn’t really know what to expect. Once I got to the entrance of the office though I was hit with this wave of emotional pain. I saw the swastika on the carpet and I felt like I had been kicked in the chest.”
In line with public perception, Vashti never felt much homophobia on campus. But the University has been under heat lately from students and in the media regarding The Pacifica Forum, a discussion group, led by 94-year-old retired University of Oregon progressor Orval Etter, which holds on-campus meetings though it is not affiliated with the school. (School policy allows retired professors to rent space on campus to hold events.) Identified as a white nationalist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (“the most comprehensive and certainly the best funded study there is out there”), the group says it is intended to “generate intellectual dialogue about controversial racial topics.”
“We really want to stress the idea that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
As reported in The US News: “The ASUO Senate has been arguing the merits of asking Pacifica to stop meeting on the school’s campus for the same reasons the SPLC called the forum a hate group: Many of the group’s regular members allegedly espouse anti-Semitic ideas. The group has also invited Holocaust deniers and neo-Nazi groups to campus.”
“It’s my understanding that during their meetings they have repeatedly addressed the LGBTQ community in a very negative, homophobic sense,” Vashti told us. “I know that one of their meetings a couple weeks ago they claimed that homosexuality is a psychological disorder and that all LGBTQ identified folks need to be institutionalized.”
Vashti explained: “Two weeks ago a resolution drafted by the Associated Students of the University of Oregon senate vice president, the student body vice president, and several other student senators was brought to the ASUO senate asking the Pacifica Forum to remove themselves from campus. The hope was that the senate would pass the resolution and in doing so take a strong stance against hate speech and in support of student safety.”
As reported by The Daily Emerald, “The resolution’s opponents said they were nervous that passing the measure would violate Pacifica Forum members’ First Amendment rights.” The Pacifica Forum insists that it is not a Neo-Nazi or white nationalist hate group, as it has been labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and that it cannot legally be expunged from government property, although its meetings have been moved to the furthest possible end of campus amid the recent controversy.
Due to the Pacifica Forum’s affiliation with a former UO professor, the Forum is able to utilize university facilities free of charge, administration is working to rewrite policies regarding the allocation of funds and spaces.
Many students expressed fear of violence on campus due to the Pacifica Forum’s presence. The group, which has previously hosted discussions on topics including “Swastikas: A personal passion,” invited a controversial speaker in December who is said to have “blamed “Jewish lies” for the Iraq War, praised the swastika as a symbol of white people, showed a neo-Nazi propaganda video, and led several audience members in an enthusiastic Nazi salute.”
Partially in response to that discussion, the conversation was especially heated earlier this month when half of the attendees of “Everything You Wanted to Know About the Pacifica Forum But Were Afraid to Ask” were there to protest the event. Jimmy Marr, the Sieg heil guy, was there too; mocking the protesters in full Scottish regalia while delivering the salute over and over.
University Lawyers are currently reviewing the resolution to keep the group off-campus.
Vashti echoes these concerns: “As a self-identified queer woman of color, I feel very threatened by the presence of the Pacifia Forum on campus. They have directly targeted those three communities. I was in full support of the resolution and fully support the new resolution that will be presented this week at senate. If anything, the hate crime committed against my office (and as a result, myself) only further strengthens my support. I am not going to let these threats scare me. The people who did this need to realize that they can hate us, they can hurt us, they can say and do terrible things to us but we will not allow them to break us.”
Although there is no evidence linking the group to the vandalism, Alex Ezperaza told The Oregonian that “there was speculation that the vandalism might be linked to a recent discussion about the meaning of the swastika held by the Pacifica Forum, an outside group that meets regularly on the campus.”
Vashti says, “I’d say that it’s general consensus within the student body that this crime, while it cannot be directly attributed to the Pacifica Forum or any of its members, may most likely be attributed to the current campus climate that has resulted from the presence of the Pacifica Forum on campus.”
The Daily Emerald has the following quote from Pacifica Forum member Dawn Coslow, who condemned the act, but called its being linked to the Forum “ridiculous,” stating: “Any kind of hate crime is an absolutely disgraceful, despicable act, and I have sympathy for all the students in that office who have suffered this hideous act.”
Police have no suspects though they have removed the section of the floor where the swastika was painted for investigation, and the LGBTQ union has been covering the spot with posters. “People were coming in and out of the office all day filling out Bias Response Team report forms, signing posters that we have covering the area where the swastika was cut out and outside the office, and just showing up to show support and solidarity,” says Vashti. “I don’t want to speak for the queer community or the student body. But from what I observed today, we have received strong support from the other student unions, the student government, university administration, and the community at large.”
“I am extremely proud of the students who came out today and helped organize events for this week in response to all this. I am grateful to the administration and the university president for joining those meetings and speaking to the issue and actually taking a stance.”
The LGBTQ council spent the day with student union representatives, ASUO executives and other student leaders creating a plan of action. They’ve set up events, including a candlelight vigil for Tuesday where the students will walk through campus, concluding with speakers from university staff and faculty, community members, and any students comfortable with speaking out. On Wednesday students are planning a mid-day rally to raise awareness and give visibility to the incident. The students hope that one of the speakers for that event, which will take place on the main street of campus, will be secretary of state Bill Bradbury.
Vashti and her peers hope that this incident can be used as an opportunity to get important discussions started, bring awareness to the rest of the community and address the effects of hate crimes on campus communities and in general as well as to stress the idea that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.
“Personally, I’m angry,” Vashti says. “Plain and simple. I’m feeling so much rage. I was hoping never to experience something like this. And now I have. And it scares me.”
These are the reasons my blood secretly boils when people try to tell me how “far” we’ve apparently come, or that things are anywhere near equal, or that racism, sexism, or just sheer hate are anywhere near depleted.
You’re so right. We haven’t come far in anything-we only ignore it. This just makes me feel really sad, angry, & powerless.
If I were a betting man, and I am, I would bet any amount of money that this was a false flag “hate crime”. As in, perpetrated not by Nazis, but by sympathetic individuals intent on drawing attention to “hate crimes”. You always have to ask yourself “who benefits”. Do neo-Nazi fascists benefit here? Are they going to be getting a bunch of new members, enthusiastic public support, donations? No, no, no and no. HOWEVER, the “victims” will be getting all kinds of publicity, donations from an outraged public, a bright spotlight on their pet issue, etc. This kind of crap happens ALL THE TIME. Ask Jewish student Sarah Marshak of George Washington University who was caught on video painting swatstikas on her own dorm room door. Or how about the SEVEN G.W.U. students busted for hanging up anti-Muslim posters on campus, successfully painting a conservative student group as the culprit until they themselves were caught? (That group was condemned viciously for something they didn’t do, of course.)
No doubt these goose stepping neo-Nazi Hitler worshippers are morons, but as stupid as they may be, very few are stupid enough to do something which they know will not only not HELP their cause but will HURT it terribly. If I could get a lie detector on every member of the LGBTQ I would be EVERY SINGLE CENT that the perp is a member or someone highly sympathetic to them.
AGAIN — WHO BENEFITS??? LGBTQ will milk this “hate crime” for all it’s worth.
Wow, I’ve never seen victim blaming so… LITERAL.
I don’t know whether to take you seriously Carl, but I’m going to give you at least a semi-serious answer just in case you actually believe what you just wrote.
If I was your bookie, which alas I am not, I’d take your money and laugh at your stupid ass. You seem to think that your two examples of hate-crime-hoaxes are very impressive, which tells me that you haven’t a clue how common this kind of vandalism is. Where did you think the idea for those hoaxes came from?
I also think you are grossly overestimating the brain-power of the average neo-nazi. If you’d ever met a neo-nazi in person you’d know that they are generally not that smart. Certainly not smart enough to think in terms of long-term political impact. However they (individual nazis and individual nazi-organisations alike) do benefit from acts of vandalism like this one on a smaller scale: they receive validation from their peers, visibility and yes, new members and even donations. Keep in mind that we’re not talking about republicans here but nazis -people who thrive on negative attention.
For the LGBTQ-community on the other hand, the kind of hoax you’re suggesting would seem grossly out of character to me. Unlike your typical nazi they are usually quite smart, and know that “real nazis run your school” as the song goes. Any possible benefit from a “nazi-hoax” (which I think you overestimate btw) would easily be outweighed by the intimidation queer people feel, not to mention the risk of being caught. There’s also the fact that the vandalists fucked up the TV and computer, which would be pretty weird thing to do at your own office, no?
Finally I would like to question your motives Carl. Why is it you feel the need to come out against queers and neo-nazis at the same time? Does it irk you, perhaps, as Jasper suggested below, to see your homophobia associated with nazism? Whatever the case I suggest you keep your stupid homophobic mouth shut to save yourself from further embarrassment.
P.S. I wish you were here so I could slap you. (I’m feeling aggro today, can you tell?)
I’d just like to thank Autostraddle again for allowing me to speak on this issue and raise awareness to the severity of the situation and the impact it has on the community. Y’all are wonderful and I deeply appreciate all of your support. Thank you.
You are wonderful! & you’re welcome!
Side note: You’re room needs more windows. Paint one onto the floor.
Brodude, mad respect for y’alls. Let me know if there’s anything I can do here on the East Coast.
This is a disgusting act. Trust Americans to value free speech so much a hate group can use a uni campus to preech its bile.
But one positive point one could take from this, is that people will associate homophobia with neo-nazi-ism, which is something most people do not want to be linked to in any shape or form, even if their views are ultra conservative. People may begin to examine their own prejudices (even subconsciously).
I’m glad to hear the headquarters recieved such support afterwards.
I’m glad no one was physically harmed. Mentally and emotionally is clearly another story. To experience hate out in public is a disgusting and painful thing, but to experience it in a sanctuary where members of an abused group can let their guard down is unimaginable. Stay strong, be there for each other, and fight the good fight. Don’t let this vile bigotry win! You have my love and support!
This is a horrible reminder of how far we still have to go.
quick! admit it as evidence in the prop 8 case!!
This kind of shit makes me so angry; I literally just started shaking with rage. It’s too bad I can’t think of anything more productive to do with that rage than fantasizing about marking nazis like in inglorious bastards… Guess I’ll go to the gym.
i’m so so sorry, vashti. this is terrifying, and i would feel so scared on campus afterwards. way to sound really classy in an interview about it, though.
Wow, I saw some stuff on Facebook feed about the student senate addressing the Pacifica Forum but I had no idea it was this crazy (I mean, I didn’t know what Pacifica Forum was about, besides broadly something related to hate-speech stuff.)
Thanks for bringing it onto this forum. I think it needs more national coverage.
Heartfelt thanks to all the student activists fighting this kind of hate at UO. I coordinated the Queers and Allies group at Portland State during my undergrad there, and this story strikes a familiar and scary tone for me.
One correction: the Oregon Secretary of State is Kate Brown, not Bill Bradbury.
This is so sad, How could anyone be so cowardly and low?
This is really awful Vashti, I hope you and all the students who use the centre are ok and its good that the student body is rallying round you, everyone must be really shocked. I hope they catch whoever did it. Also what the fuck – why does that wanker wear Scottish stuff?
This really blows, and I’m sorry for you guys. Sounds like you’re handling it well. Good luck and all of my lesbian love to you.
Hope everyone is okay. It sucks that stuff like this still happens.
Much love to you all as you work past this. I know how it feels and hopefully you will find that this intrusion of darkness only allows you guys to spread light farther and reach more people who would have otherwise been complacent.
I think Carl is dead on. I’d bet the members and fans of the Pacifica Forum had absolutely nothing to do with this event. Consider, 1. Several groups bristled (including and especially the LGBTQ) at the mere presence of the Pacifica Forum ANYWHERE on the U of O campus. 2. No Forced Entry. 3. Damage was minimal and easily reparable 4. Nothing was stolen.
Anyone who knows anything about “white supremacist groups” knows that they are (for the most part) a little more prone to violence than most others. They also tend to think in more militaristic terms, meaning they don’t care about mere embarrassment, and inconvenience, they care about humiliation, degradation, and rendering you inoperable.
What makes me mad is that the same people trying to stifle the free speech of the Pacifica Forum were themselves stifled not all that long ago(and in some places still are). Yet with their collective experience none of them have enough empathy to leave others to their causes. You don’t have to like what I say, but if you try to silence me, you’ll surely devise the means for others to silence you.
I have no interest in silencing you but I have better things to do than listen to you.
Can the Autostraddle staff do something about the victim-blaming trolls please?
There’s no evidence in this case that the LGBTQ group had ANYTHING to do with what happened to their offices, and just mindlessly assuming its them and trolling about it is no help whatsoever. I feel a pretty crappy “however” coming on…. However, whilst I was at uni, a pretty high profile member of the BNP (British National Party – awful right wing fascist racist bigots) was studying there, and I personally witnessed several of the campaigners to get him off campus spraying swastikas and spreading an awful lot of fear on campus in their single minded attempts to deny him an education. There was a great irony in the fact that it was these SAME campaigners who would come and sit in my house for hours on end and lecture my Jewish friend on the evils of Israel.
I don’t think a student should be denied access to an education because his views are repugnant – maybe educating him instead of making him into a martyr victim for his cause would have had more impact – but I do think that there is no place on campus for such hateful propaganda as the poster I saw above. It would be pretty stupid for someone in the LGBTQ office to vandalise the place, and I doubt they’d be SO stupid as to not fake a forced entry were they to do so.
everyone must be really shocked. I hope they catch whoever did it