‘It’s Okay to Be White Signs’ Found Covering Memorial for the First Black Students at a Tennessee University, Prompting an Investigation

East Tennessee State University officials are investigating several “It’s Okay to be White” signs plastered across campus of the Johnson City school, including a memorial honoring the university’s first African-American students.

ETSU President Brian Noland condemned the “attack” as an affront to the  institution’s values and the campus as a whole, saying: “This is not who we are.”

It's Okay to be White Signs
Several “It’s Okay to be White” signs were posted
on a campus memorial honoring desegregation. (Photo: WCYB)

“I was beyond upset yesterday and I’m still mad today,” Noland said of the fliers, found Friday. “It’s clear that the posting and placement of these flyers was an attempt to create division in our community, and I am disgusted by this act.”

The signs were found posted on campus and in Borchuck Plaza, covering the names and faces of five pioneering Black students who desegregated the northeastern Tennessee university in the 1950’s, the Johnson City Press reports. Noland said faculty and staff spent several hours Friday removing the “racist” posters.

According to local station WCYB, the signage was discovered the same weekend that historically Black fraternities and sororities were being honored on campus.

In a statement, the president said the fliers were identical to those papered across other college campuses in recent months by white nationalist groups looking to sow discord while promoting their hateful views. In 2018, three Vermont colleges saw signs bearing the same message appear on campus, prompting fear and concern for minority students’ safety.

The “It’s Okay to be White” phrase gained traction on far-right forum 4chan in 2017, and encouraged users to post the fliers in an effort to spark social unrest and cause mainstream media to go “completely berserk.” However, the Anti-Defamation League says the slogan has been used by white supremacist groups for years.

ETSU is now investigating the Friday morning incident and is working with police to identify those responsible.

“Our core values are clear — people come first and are treated with dignity and respect,” said Noland. “We recognize the wounds that this incident has opened and have multiple resources available should anyone need support.”

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