A group of students covered the LOVE statue with flyers early Wednesday to protest the recent neo-Nazi recruitment flyers around campus that contained phrases such as “stop the blacks” and “join your local Nazis.” These flyers on the LOVE statue have since been taken down.
One protester, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation from white supremacy groups, said she and others who participated were angered by what they saw as Penn’s nonchalant attitude towards the neo-Nazi recruitment flyers.
“Neutrality takes the side of the oppressor, and we are sick of being told to just take hate speech,” the protester wrote in an email. “If there is anything that history has taught us, fascism thrives when people allow it to.”
Although the neo-Nazi flyers were taken down by Monday evening, it does not appear they were removed by the school.
The University’s Guidelines on Open Expression state that “The content of student speech or expression is not by itself a basis for disciplinary action,” and “No posters shall be prohibited or restricted solely on the basis of their content, except when they may violate other applicable laws or regulations.”
In a University-wide statement sent on Monday condemning the incident, Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price said “the flyers in question are no longer posted,” before emphasizing the power of free expression in combating hate speech and a “shared conviction” that “hatred and fear-mongering have no place at Penn.”
But several of the demonstrators took issue with the administration’s suggestion that free expression could successfully counter hate speech.
“In the face of literal hate speech we have basically been told to respect it,” one protester said in an email. “Respect people that threaten our lives and humanity with talk of genocide and preserving the white race. This is not a free speech issue, this is a hate speech one, and we are putting our foot down immediately instead of waiting for a hate crime to get school attention.”
Penn spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy did not comment beyond the University’s statement.
Several other protesters who also did not wish to be named said that a man wearing an Allied Barton jacket approached them at the LOVE statue and told them to remove the flyers, calling them “unsolicited” and offensive. A Daily Pennsylvanian staffer who was present confirmed their account.
The protesters added that the man told them he had been taking down several of their flyers and threatened to call back-up forces who would remove the rest.
A video shows the man specifically complaining about the use of the word “queer” on some of the posters, saying “To me, it’s offensive. I’ve been working here for 10 years, it’s offensive.”
“Are you part of the LGBTQ+ community?” a student can be heard asking.
The employee said he was not.
Several of the protesters who were present pointed out that they self-identified as queer. The term is also used in the titles of several officially recognized campus organizations, like Queer People of Color and the Queer Student Alliance.
“It [seemed] like the security personnel was looking for justification for telling us to remove the posters,” one protester said.
After arguing for several minutes about whether or not the flyers were offensive, the protesters left the area without taking down the flyers.
“Somebody just asked like, are we done here? And [the employee] said yes and we walked away,” one student said. “He said are you guys just gonna leave it there? And we said yes, and he said okay, well we’ll do a good job taking it down for you.”
Multiple sources said the flyers were still up around 8 a.m., but those on the LOVE statue and on Locust Walk were taken down within a few hours. Some other flyers posted in the College Houses were still posted as of the afternoon.
“I’m surprised [the flyers] were taken down from the kiosks, actually,” another protester said. “We expected them to be taken down from ... the lampposts and the LOVE statue ... [but] the kiosks, we were surprised.”
“There were Nazi flyers up, and no one took them down for a while,” she added.