Offensive posts, displays raise concerns on UNC Charlotte campus

by: Ken Lemon Updated:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Some students have raised concerns after pictures of a Nazi flag and a student holding a rifle were linked to the UNC Charlotte campus.

One picture Channel 9 received shows a Nazi flag hanging from a residence hall on campus. Another is a Snapchat photo of a student holding a gun with the caption, “You are about to catch me on the news.” The photo was tweeted out by someone who wrote, “Those protesters better not bother (him) at UNCC tonight.”

The Snapchat picture is in response to Charlotte’s recent protests over the deadly officer-involved shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.

DeAndre Collins is president of the campus chapter of the NAACP and an organizer of some of the peaceful protests on the school’s campus. He said the posts are images of hate and violence.

“I’m hurt more than anything,” Collins said. “Everybody knows what the Nazi flag stands for."

Collins said he’s most upset that no one has been charged.

“How do you expect for the black community or minority community to not feel any type of anger,” Collins asked.

University spokesperson Stephen Ward agreed the images are bad.

“By anybody’s definition (the photos) were highly inappropriate,” Ward said.

But the chancellor released a statement saying, “Unfortunately, such statements amount to constitutionally protected free speech and, as such, do not violate the Student Code Of Conduct.”

“In every kind of challenge like this comes ample opportunity to learn and to teach and that’s what we do here,” Ward said.

School officials said campus police talked to the student in the picture with a gun soon after the post and “advised him of the inappropriateness of his message.”

Collins said the protests won’t stop and he wants the university to punish the people responsible for the posts.

Chancellor Philip Dubois letter to faculty, staff and students on free expression:

To All Faculty, Staff, and Students:

The past two weeks have been difficult for many members of our campus community. Over that time, we have seen UNC Charlotte students, staff, and faculty thoughtfully express their frustrations and emotions through peaceful protest demonstrations, marches, a candlelight vigil, as well as in classrooms and other group discussions.

Unfortunately, we have also seen some members of our community express themselves through inappropriate displays and offensive social media posts related to events in our city and on our campus. These posts and displays have been hurtful and divisive, and have painfully laid bare that there are members of our community who do not understand or adhere to the Noble Niner Code created and adopted by our Student Government Association and approved by the Board of Trustees in 2007.

A Noble Niner welcomes "all aspects of individuality and self-worth while embracing the learning opportunities that diversity provides." A Noble Niner demonstrates "genuine consideration and concern for the needs, feelings, ideas, and well-being of others." A Noble Niner exemplifies "all qualities and traits that promote fellowship and camaraderie among the student body, faculty, staff, and administration."

When faced with the level of ignorance and insensitivity we've seen recently, the role of an institution of higher education is primarily to ensure the safety of its students, staff, and visitors, and then to seize and create opportunities for students to understand and learn from their actions.

In the instance of a threat or a perceived threat, UNC Charlotte's Police and Public Safety department conducts an immediate investigation of the display or posting to make sure that our community is not at risk. Additionally, in each case, UNC Charlotte staff members review the displays and postings under our Code of Student Responsibility to determine appropriate steps and responses, if any. We take very seriously our obligation to make certain that students understand the distress and discord that their words and actions can create in our community. How we fulfill that obligation will vary depending on the situation and federal privacy laws might prevent us from disclosing the specific nature of the University's response.

At the same time, as a public institution, we are mindful that even distasteful and narrow-minded speech and expression are protected by the First Amendment. The constitutional protections afforded to insulting and offensive speech are the same ones we observed in encouraging and safeguarding the peaceful demonstration activities that were held on our campus last week. When speech is determined to be inconsistent with what it means to be a Noble Niner but does not violate law or University policy, it is incumbent upon faculty, staff, and students to speak purposefully to voice our values, making it known to the community and to the world that the actions of a handful of individuals do not reflect our collective conscience and character.

To that end, I have asked Student Body President Fahn Darkor to bring together a representative group of students to meet with me later this week to discuss the next steps we should take as a campus to advance our collective understanding of the diverse viewpoints at UNC Charlotte. In addition, our Provost and academic Deans are having conversations about how best to facilitate dialogue in the classroom environment, and Student Affairs is continuing programming and activities to recognize and celebrate differences within the campus and larger community. I encourage you to become involved.

Sincerely,

Philip L. Dubois, Chancellor

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