Daniel Meech, The Spinoff, September 29, 2019
University of Auckland vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon says a new batch of posters from a white supremacist group is ‘unfortunate’ but the university will not remove or condemn them, reports Daniel Meech.
The University of Auckland’s campus has played host to white supremacist posters for the second time this year. Students have reported finding blue stickers and multi-coloured posters scattered around the university’s quad area, law school, and general library. The stickers and posters encourage viewers to visit the webpage of a white supremacist group who wish “to build a new generation of capable, young white men who will assume the mantle of re-taking control of our own country”.
The website – which details the group’s motives, and provides contact information for new recruits to get in touch – says one of the group’s many aims is to battle the “propaganda promoting incoherent ‘diversity’ and ‘anti-racism’”. Their other goals include “revitalizing” the European culture in New Zealand, returning New Zealand into the hands of “strong men”, and stopping the government passing policies which are “at the expense of the European community”. According to the website, women, non-Europeans, and non-heterosexual individuals are strictly forbidden from becoming members.
Vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon says although the group’s posters are “unfortunate”, they are protected by free speech. As a result, he will not be instructing staff to remove them from the university’s campus, and the university will not officially condemn the group or their message.
“I think there is a balancing act – and it’s particularly important at a university – between the rights of the people to free speech and the rights of people not to be upset by things,” McCutcheon told Craccum. In his view, the group’s anti-minority rhetoric does not constitute hate speech, and so there is insufficient reason for the university to intervene with the dissemination of their message.
“The stickers themselves aren’t illegal,” he says, and “the particular posters I have seen … are not of themselves hate speech, they are not illegal, they are not inciting people to violence.
“I know some people go from those posters to [the group’s website] and form a view that it’s a right-wing or white supremacist group and they may well be right. But [the group] are … not illegal, and so I tend to the view that we should promote free speech wherever we can,” he told Craccum.
McCutcheon says he empathises with minorities who feel threatened by the appearance of white supremacist posters on the university’s grounds. “I absolutely get that,” he said, “but I do think that in a university in particular – and in society generally – we should think quite carefully about boundaries on free speech where what is being said is not illegal.”
Auckland University Students Association president George Barton said he disagrees with McCutcheon. “While the vice-chancellor is correct in saying that we operate in a society that has free speech, we also operate in a university that strives, within that context, to be safe, inclusive and equitable for all students, as enshrined in the Student Charter,” he said. “In my view – and I think the vast majority of students’ views – that involves recognising that these kinds of views don’t belong in our university”. Barton told Craccum he would be speaking to university security and Campus Life about removing the posters.
This isn’t the first time white supremacist rhetoric has appeared on campus. In April this year, university students reported finding similar posters plastered around Albert Park and the Clock Tower. Around the same time, a group of post-graduate students lodged a formal complaint with the university, alleging a student with neo-Nazi views had threatened them and made them feel unsafe.
At the time, Vice-Chancellor McCutcheon said reports of an increasing problem with white supremacists on campus were “unsubstantiated” and “utter nonsense”, but that the university would support anyone who said they felt unsafe on campus. McCutcheon also promised the university did not “condone any sort of harassment and will always act” against discrimination and harassment.
Two years before that, the university made headlines when lampposts and buildings around the General Library were covered with dozens of posters calling on white men to oppose “white genocide”.
Barton says AUSA “encourage students who see these stickers and posters to remove them”. McCutcheon also says that – while he personally believes the group are entitled to spread their message on university grounds – “if people want to take down other people’s posters, there isn’t a whole lot I can do about it”.