SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
There are reports from about 90 college campuses around the country of white nationalist groups trying to recruit students by putting up racist posters and sending racist messages. One campus that's been struck is Emerson College in Boston. Lee Pelton is the president of Emerson, and he joins us from their studios. President Pelton, thanks very much for being with us.
LEE PELTON: Scott, thank you for having me.
SIMON: Well, tell us about what happened. I understand first incident was in December and some posters were put up.
PELTON: Yes. We had two incidents - one in December and one in March. The first incident involved seven posters that were put up in our academic buildings and student residences, and they were sponsored by a group calling itself the America Vanguard. The posters were apparently placed there as part of the group's - what it called it? - northern propaganda campaign whose purpose was to spread its message and influence.
And American Vanguard is a white supremacist group. It's an anti-Semitic organization that believes biological and genetic determinism assert the intellectual superiority of what it calls the white race. And in March of this year, more than 500 emails were sent to our faculty, student life staff, students and senior administrators with the subject line, help President Trump stop white genocide. And the white genocide project was formed to resist what it calls white genocide that occurs when white areas are forced to accept diversity or white assimilation.
SIMON: I know Emerson (laughter). It is a famously progressive place. Why would anybody think that there's fertile grounds for recruitment at Emerson?
PELTON: Well, in our case, it's hard to imagine that anyone who knows Emerson would think that it would in fact be fertile ground for recruitment. But rather, my view is that it was not a recruitment effort for the targeted Emerson students and faculty, but rather it was sent to intimidate our community and also to get us to respond in a way that would allow it to recruit members from around the country.
SIMON: And I guess I have to point out, you were the first African-American president of Emerson, aren't you?
PELTON: I am indeed. Yes (laughter). And so when we think about why Emerson, that might have been a reason why they targeted us. I also think, clearly, there's been what one author called the kind of rising white consciousness in this country of ours and what others have called the racialization of white people.
SIMON: You sent out a couple of statements, and I wonder if you can tell us what you thought it was important to say to the Emerson community.
PELTON: Well, I think the most important thing that we can say and should say is to reassert our values. Our values at Emerson are a deep and abiding commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. We believe that the diversity of ideas and people acting together in shared interests informs who we are as a community.
We tried not to overreact while making clear that we will not be intimidated by these groups, that we will stand together as a community no matter our political affiliations, whether one is a Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or independent, and that all of us want to denounce these hateful acts.
SIMON: Do you hear from parents who say, Mr. President, you've got to put an end to this. I don't want my child exposed to this?
PELTON: Yes, we do. And what I say to those parents is that colleges and universities are microcosms of society, that these young people will have to face a number of challenges and events in their lives that would be discomforting to them. And so that we should use this as a learning experience to encourage freedom of speech.
SIMON: Lee Pelton is the president of Emerson College in Boston. Nice to talk to you. Good luck, Mr. President.
PELTON: Thank you, Scott.
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