Facebook pages called “White Student Union” have popped up recently at dozens of universities around the country, including the University of Missouri.
The pages state that their goal is to provide a forum for student backlash against minority students pressuring universities to confront racism and to make campuses more inclusive.
At the University of Missouri, the page is called Mizzou White Student Union. It features the familiar MU columns towering over the Columbia campus green, a bronze Thomas Jefferson posed in a school garden, as well as a string of comments denouncing the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent MU student protests that set off a national push by students fighting for racial equality.
MU officials said the page is deceiving, and they are investigating. They also said White Student Union has nothing to do with the university, it is not a sanctioned student group and they doubt the Facebook page was even started by students. Other universities are also investigating White Student Union.
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The pages have been described as fake and a fraud, and some have claimed bogus accounts were created and comments were made up to incite racially insensitive comments. Facebook did not respond to several requests for interviews.
The Southern Poverty Law Center suspects the White Student Union pages were started by a white supremacist group. Other human rights groups say White Student Union has surfaced on Facebook during other times of racial tension.
“We are trying to find out who is behind them,” said Leonard Zeskind, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights in Kansas City. Zeskind’s group tracks white nationalist groups. “It could be a white supremacist group, students at the university or someone outside the university. … I don’t think it is one group that’s doing it.”
Zeskind said the appearance of White Student Union “is definitely a racist response to anti-racist activity.”
The White Student Union Facebook page does not appear to have surfaced at any other regional campuses.
No one responded to repeated attempts by The Kansas City Star to contact the founders of the Mizzou White Student Union page. But on the page is this post:
“It’s become increasingly clear that campus politics at the University of Missouri is becoming divided along identity lines. As People of color and African Americans form organizations to advocate for their well-being and safety, white students must do so as well.”
Another post said this: “The Mizzou White Student Union is not yet a formally registered Mizzou student organization, but we are a real collective of people and are in the process of applying for recognition from the University. Stay tuned.”
And a third said the White Student Union is “a group for white University of Missouri Students & Alumni. The first white MU student organization. Equality should not be reserved for only non-whites.”
The posts and the page, just like the MU student protests that led to the resignation of the university’s top two leaders, are protected by free-speech laws.
The Missouri Facebook page appeared online after protests — led by the predominantly black group Concerned Student 1950 — set off a stream of student protests for racial inclusion and equality on campuses across the country.
Similar White Student Union Facebook pages have turned up claiming affiliation with some 30 campuses, including New York University, the University of Illinois and the University of California-Berkeley. The schools quickly denounced any connection.
At the University of Illinois, campus administrators got Facebook to remove the page after a post called for students to photograph black students attending a rally on the Champaign-Urbana campus. That post said, “Feel free to send in pictures you take of any black protesters on the quad so we know who antiwhites are.” Since then, another Illinois White Student Union page has surfaced.
At Berkeley, chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks said in a statement to students and his faculty: “The page is clearly intended to fuel conflict and provocation rather than to foster a serious and constructive dialogue among students about issues of race. This does not reflect the values of our campus community.” Berkeley used trademark infringement laws to get the page pulled.
Days after a White Student Union page surfaced on Facebook using University of Missouri logos, a second page with the Mizzou name and the towering columns partially blocked by a giant red and white tractor appeared.
“We did submit an intellectual property report to Facebook and that resulted in the removal of trademark images,” said Christian Basi, university spokesman. “We are continuing to look into certain images on the page.”
The latest posting also shows a picture of MU student body president Payton Head, who is African-American. Wording around the picture says, “Come to Mizzou where you can make up (expletive) and Blame it on racism.”
Payton earlier this school year reported a derogatory racial term had been yelled at him as he walked through campus. It’s one of the incidents that led students to protest last month.
Earlier posts on Mizzou White Student Union challenged claims that the page is a hoax.
“Unfortunately, some prejudiced individuals have been spreading malicious rumors about the Mizzou White Student Union and other white student unions across the country,” one post said. “These bigots have slandered our organization and others like us as fraudulent, suggesting that we are actually unaffiliated with our universities.”
It also said that “the Mizzou White Student Union is a real group of about 10-15 core members and 20-25 affiliates who attend the University of Missouri. We are currently in the process of applying for recognition from the university and expect to have our first major public appearance after Thanksgiving break.”
University officials said many of the posts are faked but may have used photos of actual university events that had nothing to do with the White Student Union. One photo shows students at a bake sale and claims the sale raised money for the White Student Union. University officials said there was a bake sale, but not for that group.
MU officials did not say what kind of support, if any, the page might be getting from students on their campus.
University officials are not the only ones watching the White Student Union Facebook pages. The Southern Poverty Law Center is looking into them as well.
If the center discovers who is behind the pages, the organization would expose them “and their true agenda,” said Lecia Brooks, outreach director of the center.
“It’s extremely dangerous propaganda,” Brooks said, because students who already may have leanings similar to the page creators could link once they are on the site to more dangerous white supremacist sites that they previously did not know existed.
And, she said, social media is a key tool in reaching young people of like mind.
Though such sites may gain a following on college campuses, Brooks said it is minimal.
“Most students are embarrassed by it,” Brooks said. “Where there is a concentration of liberal-thinking people, such as on a college campus, there has been pushback.”