University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor Steve Angle and UT system President Joe DiPietro denounced racism after incidents of vandalism and the defacing of Black History Month posters occurred on campus Wednesday.
Posters celebrating Black History Month and advertising events by the Freshman Council were covered by posters that read "Hitler was right" and depicted Adolf Hitler making his infamous salute, according to UTC officials. The group posting the flyers, Vanguard America, is the white supremacist group best known for organizing the Charlottesville, Va., rally last August.
UTC SGA statementView
The defaced posters were removed under campus policy because the group does not have permission to post signs on campus.
"The University supports free speech but not by trampling on the rights of others. More importantly, the expression of such racist, hateful views [has] no place on our campus," Angle said in a statement.
According to Trae Cotton, UTC's new vice chancellor for student development, such posters could be posted if the appropriate procedures were followed. The university provides a free space in the University Center where any student can post any information they like.
However, Vanguard America, which according to UTC officials does not have a recognized presence on the campus, vandalized existing posters.
"They would have the freedom to make their statement," Cotton said. "Freedom of speech does not mean 'I'm OK with it as long as I like what you are saying,' but this was an issue of vandalism."
In Knoxville, a white supremacist group, the Traditionalist Workers Party, plans to hold an event on campus on Feb. 17, according to The Washington Post.
The group was not invited to campus, but did follow UT policy on the use of campus facilities by non-university speakers in seeking to conduct an event, according to a statement from DiPietro.
"The ugly reality is, extremist groups are actively organizing, targeting colleges and universities in an attempt to be heard and to grow their ranks," DiPietro said in a statement. "Hate groups also target some universities on the basis of their principles of inclusion and commitment to free speech."
UTC's Student Government Association also released a statement in response to the incidents: "Blatant racial hatred across the United States has been highlighted as a result of recent events. Unfortunately, UTC is not immune. We have a responsibility to facilitate conversations about how to deter hatred and embrace the diversity that exists on our campus and in our community. Moving forward, we will continue to push our campus community, particularly the division of Student Development and our Student Body, to be leading forces in the change of our campus climate."
Angle, who was not on campus Thursday, reiterated what the school's Student Government Association said.
"I support and share the ideas and sentiments expressed by our SGA. Now is the time for us to speak up and speak out, to cherish our diversity, understand people who are different from us, and to stand up for our beliefs," Angle said in a statement.
No other incidents and no disruptions at any of the Black History Month events have been reported, Cotton said.
This story was updated Feb. 8, 2018, at 11:54 p.m.