Last Thursday, as Give to Gustavus Day overtook the campus cafeteria, controversial posters started popping up around campus.
These posters, which criticized the campus administration through statements such as “$70,000,000 dollars in renovations for Nobel and a closet for diversity,” were hung anonymously in various campus buildings and also posted on the “Overheard at Gustavus” Facebook page using the Give to Gustavus day hashtag, #fireuptherouser.
In addition to the Nobel poster, two more posters were seen and posted about on the “Overheard at Gustavus”Facebook page: one depicting a close-up of what seems to be an all-caucasian Christmas in Christ Chapel choir with the caption “How can we so freely advertise diversity . . . when we clearly don’t have enough?” and the other with various statements about diversity on campus with #whygustavus in the middle.
The posters were made for a special topics class, English 244: Queer Theory with Associate Professor Rob Kendrick, according to a Junior Evelyn Doran who is in the class.
“The assignment was to take what we learned from reading theorists like James Penney and Sarah Ahmed and apply it to our lives at Gustavus and beyond, either through engaging the community some way or analyzing a current event,” Doran said.
“Several students in the class decided to engage through posters, although I did not personally. I’m not sure who all the students that made posters are. What I can say with absolute certainty is that everything stated in the posters reflects the opinions of the individuals that posted them and information we gathered either in class or that students gathered on their own,” Doran said.
While the posters were seen around campus in person, two students posted them on the “Overheard at Gustavus” Facebook page.
“I don’t feel comfortable specifically commenting on the posters themselves, but I will say that when I saw them I felt like it was important to let others know and start a conversation, and that’s why I posted it on the overheard page,” Senior Amanda Hoffman said.
Sophomore Grace Matson posted two posters on the site, and explained why she felt it was important to do so.
“I agreed with the posters. Especially on Give to Gustavus Day, I thought it was a clever and good way to bring up the issues that many students may not even realize were issues,” Matson said.
These comments are coming after several months of work done by staff and students at Gustavus to ensure that welcoming and including everyone is a priority on campus. Over the summer, what was formerly known as the Diversity Center was renmaed the Center for Inclusive Excellence, a change that was thought to make the place more welcoming for all. Additionally, student senate recently voted to add a permanent inclusive excellence chair on their board.
Additionally, it should be noted that twenty percent of the student body is made up of racially underrepresented students, according to both the Gustavus website and collegefactual.com. This is consistent with the racial makeup of Minnesota as a whole, according to the US Census Bureau.
Matson also added that it was the first time she had heard about the information on the posters.
“I know a lot of students didn’t like the poster or agree with them, but they seem to be more upset about the posters being put up rather than why the posters were put up. Conversation and discussion is an important step towards change and this is the first step,” Matson said.
This conversation is key, since the poster fiasco quickly escalated in the comments sections of the posts. Numerous students were outraged that the posters were taken down, however, it should be noted that the students had not gone through the proper channels to get the posters approved. The advertising on campus guidelines‒available on the Gustavus webpage‒clearly states that all posters hung on campus must be stamped by the information desk and include the name of the organization or class that is sponsoring them. The diversity posters did not meet these guidelines.
On another level, though, some of the “facts” on the posters were not facts at all. The #whygustavus poster claimed that Gustavus is not ADA accessible (accessible for those with disabilities) when, in fact, it is. A facility being ADA accessible is not an option; it’s the law. Gustavus is legally in compliance with this law.
Regardless of how you feel about the posters, this issue is a hot topic for those on campus and conversations will likely continue through the rest of the school year. Students who are concerned about diversity on campus are encouraged to reach out to their class representative and schedule a meeting, support inclusive excellence programming around campus, and continue finding ways to advocate their message without violating policies.
The Center for Inclusive Excellence was contacted to comment but failed to respond.