The emergence of “White Student Union” Facebook groups claiming links to more than 30 universities has caused alarm among students and education officials, although the authenticity of many of the pages is being questioned.
None of the groups have been sanctioned by the universities, and some, including those claiming affiliation with Princeton, the University of California, Berkeley, and Penn State, were removed after university officials complained to Facebook.
Berkeley’s chancellor, Nicholas B. Dirks, said in a statement that the group was “clearly intended to fuel conflict and provocation rather than to foster a serious and constructive dialogue among students about issues of race.”
The Facebook groups insist that they represent the interests of white students, but also appear to be offering a counterpoint to university organizations dedicated to minority issues.
Several of the pages introduced their objectives with identical language:
“We unapologetically provide a safe space for white students to air their true feelings about the future of our nation, discuss and reflect on the lessons laid down for us by our great European writers, philosophers, and artists, and develop a positive program to restore the pioneering will and greatness of our unique and virtuous people.”
Whether the Facebook groups were started by students at the universities or by an outside group seeking to stir up debate is unclear. The first one to gain attention, the “Illini White Student Union,” surfaced on Nov. 18, hours after a black student solidarity rally at the University of Illinois, according to The Daily Illini. The page was removed after university officials complained.
In the days that followed, The Daily Stormer, a source of neo-Nazi commentary, and users of the 8chan message board discussed efforts to create similar groups at other universities they were not attending, according to severalreports.
Outsiders appear to be responsible for at least some of the groups, although it’s unclear if some students could have been inspired by the Illinois group and the attention that followed to create groups at their own universities. Attempts by local news media to identify administrators of the pages have been unsuccessful. A student claiming to be the administrator of the “NYU White Student Union” told The Tab, a publication aimed at young people, that personal safety was a concern.
The Facebook groups have set off heated arguments over racial issues as they seek to draw attention to the perceived struggles of white people and play down the concerns of minority groups.
The Illinois group framed its mission in relation to rising protests across the country over police conduct, contending that white students needed to “organize against the terrorism we have been facing from Black Lives Matter activists on campus.”
Such sentiments have attracted a number of supporters, but also plenty of detractors.
“Perhaps you should attend some more classes and try to learn something about white privilege, systemic racism, and how you’ve actually NEVER been denied a ‘safe space’ in the history of the world,” one commenter wrote on the University of Central Florida group’s page.