“He wants to build a wall between Wake and Winston-Salem State. And he’ll make them pay for it.”
A racist Instagram story, featuring the previous statement, ignited outrage and concern on both Wake Forest’s and Winston-Salem State University’s (WSSU) campuses last Friday.
Suggesting that a wall be built between Wake Forest and WSSU, a local historically black university (HBCU), the post appeared to reference President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall on the southern border of the United States, financed by Mexico.
The image, which originally appeared on the Instagram story of a Wake Forest student, endorsed another specific student’s write-in candidacy for Student Government President. However, junior Kal Maier, the student named and pictured in the image, was not an official candidate for Student Government President, nor did he attempt to run a write-in campaign. He said that he had no knowledge or involvement in posting the image.
“I was away with my family and was not aware that this post with my name and picture was being created,” Maier said in a statement to the Old Gold & Black. “I did not help create nor did I know of the creation of the image until it had already been published on the Internet. The post was rude and offensive, and I do not support this post in any way.”
Maier is a member of Wake Forest’s Gamma Phi chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. Old Gold & Black reached out to Pi Kappa Alpha’s media team, but they did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The image obtained by Old Gold & Black was screenshotted from the Instagram story of freshman Joe Melancon, who also did not immediately respond to request for comment.
President Nathan Hatch stated that a team led by Dean of Students Adam Goldstein is currently investigating the source of the image. On Saturday, Hatch sent an email to the Wake Forest community condemning the post.
“While the intent of the authors may have been a parody of a national issue, it was deeply offensive and unacceptable,” he said. “The impact on the community is widespread and harmful, regardless of the original intent.”
He noted that he reached out to WSSU Chancellor Elwood Robinson to express his concern.
The email continued, “The message disparaged an institution whose values and mission we embrace and with whom we are building increased collaboration that brings our communities together.”
Several students took to Twitter to bring the image to the university’s attention, including senior Bri Reddick, who wrote, “Wake Forest students are rewarded for acts of white supremacy and build entire presidential campaigns off of it. A wall that separates us from a neighboring HBCU [Historically Black College or University] isn’t a platform point, it’s racism.” The official Wake Forest account encouraged Reddick, along with other students who tweeted at the university, to file a bias incident report.
@WakeForest students are rewarded for acts of white supremacy & build entire presidential campaigns off of it. A wall that separates us from a neighboring HBCU isn’t a platform point it’s racism. We need a #wfuzerotolerance policy 4 white supremacy #nohumanitate #whiteforest1834 pic.twitter.com/npENkxevAq
— Bri Reddick (@Bri_Reddick) March 22, 2019
Although Reddick said that she did not file a bias incident report herself, an unknown number of students did. The bias incident reporting system does not have any investigative oversight, but instead refers incident reports to other offices such as student conduct and human resources, according to Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Jose Villalba.
“We are currently collecting as much information as possible, as well as assessing harm in our community,” Villalba said. “Considering the reach and complexity of this particular incident, we are being as thorough as possible in collecting information and assessing harm.”
Results of the investigation of the image’s origins led by the dean of students will be shared with Hatch. There is no time frame for when outcomes regarding any bias reports filed could be made, and Villalba noted that if it becomes a student conduct case, it would be confidential.
Students at both Wake Forest and WSSU expressed anger and resentment at the image, especially as the Wake Forest community reckons with two race-related controversies that occurred earlier this semester: the presence of racist photographs and references, particularly of blackface, in old editions of the Howler and revelations that Dean of Admissions Martha Allman and Associate Dean of Admissions Kevin Pittard, both alumni of the university, appeared in photos in front of a Confederate flag with members of Kappa Alpha Order in the 1980s.
Wake Forest School of Divinity student Richard Hughes, a graduate of HBCU Simmons College who also brought the image to the university’s attention on Twitter, said that he first saw the image in a GroupMe and was “not surprised, but disappointed” at its denigration of WSSU. He noted that 59 years ago, in February 1960, 10 white students from Wake Forest joined 11 students from WSSU to protest segregated lunch counters in downtown Winston-Salem.
“For that to have taken place, when the walls of division and separation were torn down at that time for the sake of black uplift, and then now somebody wants to do the literal antithesis of what that symbolized and build a wall between these two groups of students who at one time stood in solidarity for black uplift, that’s very problematic,” he said. “It’s more than just a joke for people who look like me, for blacks … that says a lot about what people think about our mere existence, that they want to separate themselves. What is the reasoning and the justification for being separate? Is it this sense of superiority … is it this sense that you’re ‘less than’ human? That is what statements like that symbolize.”
William Gibson, president of WSSU Student Government, also commented on the impact of the image on the relationship between Wake Forest and WSSU to WSSU sophomore Tremane Johnson, a photographer, videographer and interviewer for the university’s newspaper, The News Argus. Johnson, as well as Tori Edwards, the editor-in-chief of The News Argus, agreed to share their reporting with the Old Gold & Black.
“We’re very disheartened … we don’t want for us to continue to have these conversations and for it not be taken seriously,” Gibson said. “I think there needs to be a class or something to really teach these students that certain things are not meant to be said … for students at Wake [Forest], a Predominantly White Institution, to continue to preach this hate rhetoric. It’s going to take a gradual process for us to all understand … why some people do the things that they do. Maybe we will never understand that, but I’m more invested in making sure that [the] students that I’m serving, my population [and] my peers, [that] their voices are represented at different tables in different spaces.”
WSSU senior Christina Harris called on Wake Forest students and WSSU students to come together to have conversations about racism.
“In light of the situation, we need to have something like a come-to-Jesus,” she said to Johnson for The News Argus. “We need to have some type of event together, [when] we can really sit and talk about this issue, because [of] the fact that some people at Wake [Forest] think it was a joke. That’s a problem — the fact that they think this joke was funny. So, we just need to sit and talk about diversity, inclusion and prejudice and why it’s still relevant today and what we can do to reduce it here in Winston-Salem.”
On Wake Forest’s campus, the image has renewed students’ calls on the university to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for white supremacy.
“I know people are calling for a policy against racism, but what we’ve seen is that white students have weaponized racism and used it against students of color,” Reddick said. “So, what we want is a no-tolerance policy for racism and then a step further for white supremacy because racism stems out of white supremacy … This could actually do something that intentionally serves students of color.”
Villalba noted that the university administration recognizes the importance of having a clear statement against white supremacy and that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is currently considering how such a statement would impact existing campus policies.
“These statements, action items and next steps all become part of fulfilling the mission of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion: to facilitate the university’s mission to create a more diverse learning community — a community that can only reach its potential if we all aspire to be more inclusive and more equitable,” Villalba said.
The Wake Forest Anti-Racism Coalition, which formed this semester with a list of nine demands for university policies to combat white supremacy and anti-blackness, also said that the post demonstrates the critical need for a zero-tolerance policy for white supremacy at Wake Forest.
“When a student at a Predominantly White Institution feels empowered to deploy racist ‘build a wall’ rhetoric against an HBCU, it is clear that Wake Forest is an institution that emboldens white supremacists,” the group said in a statement to the Old Gold & Black. “We believe that without the adoption and enforcement of this policy, Wake Forest will foster an environment that is complicit in white supremacy.”
The incident was covered by the Winston-Salem Journal and the Associated Press and picked up by The New York Times and the Washington Post. While all three newspapers called the Instagram post “racist,” Hatch’s message to the Wake Forest community did not. Instead, he termed it “offensive.” Cheryl Walker, Wake Forest’s director of News and Communications, said that staff from several offices, including Campus Life, Diversity and Inclusion and Communications and External Relations, informed the wording of the president’s message based on conversations they had with students and what was said on social media.
The Anti-Racism Coalition responded to Hatch’s message by writing on Twitter, “The ‘parody of a national issue’ to which you refer is a racist dog whistle deployed to embolden white supremacy. The author of the post knew what they were doing. Call racism by its name.”
@PresidentHatch the “parody of a national issue” to which you refer is a racist dog whistle deployed to embolden white supremacy. The author of the post knew what they were doing. Call racism by its name #wfuzerotolerance #WhiteForest1834 https://t.co/BCxnegjKII
— Wake Forest University Anti-Racism Coalition (@wfuarc) March 23, 2019