Arts and Features Editor
Nine decals have been found throughout campus with ties to “Patriot Front,” an organization recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a white supremacy group.
The Erst report of a decal was March 1, and Deputy Chief of Police for Framingham State University John Santorno said, “It appears that most, if not all stickers, were placed on campus on February 27.”
According to SPLC, a non-profit organization that monitors the activity of hate groups in America, “Patriot Front” is “an image-obsessed organization that rehabilitated the explicitly fascist agenda of Vanguard America with garish patriotism. ‘Patriot Front’ focuses on theatrical rhetoric and activism that can be easily distributed as propaganda for its chapters across the country.”
President F. Javier Cevallos sent a campus-wide email March 3 regarding the Erst two decals found. The email reported Framingham State University Police Department (FSUPD) was reviewing footage from Crocker and Memorial Groves.
Cevallos also stated the Bias Education Response Team (BERT) and the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) would hold a “Standing Against White Supremacy Virtual Processing Space” in which the FSU community could “discuss these events, its impact, and the next steps for our community.”
Constanza Cabello, vice president for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement led the
processing space via Zoom March 5.
Cabello started the discussion by stating, “I don’t want to spend a ton of time talking about ‘Patriot Front,’ because I really don’t want to give this group any more visibility and space than they’ve already taken up on our campus and in our community.”
Instead, Cabello used the time in the processing space to relay information and campus resources to faculty and staff.
Santorno was also part of the discussion and explained that FSUPD has been “securing,” “removing,” and “photographing” the decals found.
Santorno said, “We’ve been interviewing any type of witness or reporting parties that have told us about the stickers. We’ve reviewed hours upon hours, maybe dozens, or close to 100 hours of footage. The University has well over 200 cameras on campus. Those cameras were able to capture some of the incidents as they happened.”
In another campus-wide email sent March 8, Cevallos attached images of two of the decals, along with a photo of two male subjects involved with placing them around campus. According to Cevallos, “They walked onto campus from High Street entering on to State Street. The subjects left the campus area by walking North on State Street turning onto High Street.”
University Police have increased the number of foot and car patrols on campus as a result of the incident, according to the email.
The investigation involved contacting nine state schools to identify if there were any similar reports, and as of March 5, none of the other sister institutions reported similar incidents, according to Santorno.
FSUPD also contacted the Massachusetts State Police Anti-Terrorism Unit.
Santorno, Cevallos, and Cabello all believe “Patriot Front” vandalized campus due to the ease of committing such acts at public institutions.
Santorno explained he believes the culprits came to Framingham State due to the “liberty” of public institutions. He said private institutions are able to trespass, and be more restrictive with who they allow to be on campus.
Cevallos said, “I think they’re just some people that came around and just started posting things. And obviously, we are an open campus, I mean, anybody can come in. We are a state institution. Our campus is open to everybody – it’s easy to come and go, and we cannot limit that.”
Cabello said, “I’ve worked on campuses where you can’t get onto campus unless you’ve been checked by the security monitor in the front. And as a public institution, that’s not what we want – we want to be a resource to the community.
“It’s great that the public has access to our library and the resources we o]er. And so I think that’s part of why it’s easy. I also think that as a public institution, we honor free speech,” she added. “We view that as a really important tenet of our democracy. And so now it’s about meeting free speech with more free speech. I think that’s part of why public institutions have become an easy, quick target for white supremacy groups.”
However, Cabello doesn’t want to label this incident as free speech. She said, “Let’s call it what it is – it’s vandalism.”
One of the Erst decals was discovered by Psychology Professor Stacy Grossman.
“I regularly take walks on campus because I consider campus a beautiful and safe place,” she said. "When I saw the decal on the Memorial Grove sign, my heart sank and my blood began to boil.
“I instantly knew the decal represented white supremacist ideology because it had the words ‘America First’ and ‘Patriot Front’ on it. Even though the decal has the colors of the American flag, I know from studying history that “America First” has nothing to do with patriotism. ‘America First’ is synonymous with hate and eugenics,” she said. “I know from studying developmental psychology that the group who made the decal wants college students to think that the group is patriotic.”
Grossman said she felt supported by her colleagues in the Psychology Department, as well as Cevallos for sending the campus-wide email within a day of the incident. “This evidence is only possible because campus infrastructure includes security cameras.”
Cevallos explained while the cameras’ primary goal is to capture incidents as they happen, they also serve as a deterrent to crime. However, the recent pandemic has created opportunities for people to hide their faces.
“They [the cameras] are not going to stop somebody from doing whatever they are doing,” Cevallos said.
In June 2020, Cevallos released a statement in regard to FSU’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution. This most recent incident has Cabello and her colleagues “doubling down” on this anti-racist stance.
Cabello said, “I think that the reason we’re having such a strong response to this unfortunate situation is because we know where we stand, we’re clear with our vision, we’re clear with our values, and we’re sticking to them.”
She explained incidents like these not only disturb the physical environment and emotional well-being of the entire community, but they also disrupt the active anti-racist work that was already being conducted.
Cevallos said, “The situation, the circumstances, the things that were going on in this country really call for us to become more aggressive in terms of anti-racism, and changing the conversation to understand that racism has been a pervasive fact of life in our society, and has had really significant consequences. It is time for us to truly address the issue of racism and commit ourselves to becoming an anti-racist institution.”
Sophomore and Student Trustee McKenzie Ward said, “I was disgusted to see that people have decided to spend their time and energy to spread such a hateful message on our campus. It breaks my heart that because of these individuals, there are FSU students who no longer feel comfortable walking around campus alone.
“College for many people is a second home and each and every student has a right to feel safe and respected on their campus.” She added, “However, I am extremely appreciative of the transparency from the University about the incident and the ongoing investigation. I hope that the University is able to locate these individuals and that they will be reprimanded for their actions.”
Senior studio art major Gwen Morton said, “This was disappointing, but not all that surprising. It’s disheartening that these people feel emboldened to do these sorts of things, but at the end of the day, it just means we have to work harder to show them that their hateful rhetoric is unwanted and unwelcome, both on our campus and everywhere else.” Morton said she is glad the administration is taking this issue seriously. “White supremacy in any form cannot be tolerated.”
Senior English major Taylor Anderson said, “It’s very frustrating and disheartening to hear about this.
“It’s disheartening to know that even though Trump is no longer president, his shameful rhetoric and harmful ideologies still manage to bolster white supremacists and hate groups across the country.”
During the processing space, Cabello commented on how an incident such as this not only affects students, but the community as a whole. “In these moments, we always keep students center. But I also want to acknowledge that this has probably really impacted our faculty and staff colleagues as well. ... I think that immediately, many of us go into how can we support the students, but this is an attack on all of our community.”
Cevallos agreed. “I’ve been saying all along that my motto is, ‘Everybody should feel respected in our community.’ And those kinds of decals, stickers, or whatever you want to call them, are not respectful – they are offensive. And anything that is o]ensive is hurtful. So we don’t like to have that happening in our community,” he said.
Cabello said this incident has motivated DICE more than ever. She said, “For us in DICE, and I know that other folks are feeling the same way, this has actually added fuel to our anti-racist Ere, and that we are ready to double down. We already knew our work was important before – this is just a close-to-home reminder that the work is going to get done.”
Any information related to the incident can be reported to University Police via telephone at 508-626-4911, or to remain anonymous, text FSUTIP to 67283.
BERT also has a bias incident response form on its webpage for those who are witnesses or targets of bias incidents.
[Editor’s Note: McKenzie Ward is the Opinions Editor for The Gatepost.]