Flag poles and lamp posts on Castleton’s campus were found plastered with racist stickers promoting the white nationalist group, Patriot Front, in an act of vandalism on March 31 — and a suspect has yet to be found.
First reported by a student in an email to Interim President Thomas Mauhs-Pugh early Thursday morning, a total of eight stickers were removed by 10 a.m. in a canvasing effort led by Public Safety and facilities.
Public Safety Director Keith Molinari said the stickers likely started in the Hope Lot commuter parking area before spreading to higher-trafficked locations around campus such as in front of Huden Dining Hall and on the Black Lives Matter and LQBTQ+ flag posts.
“They want their name, Patriot Front, out there for that lone person that maybe [is] leaning in that direction to start reaching out and making contact,” Molinari said. “We’re not unique here at Castleton to have this happen.”
The Castleton Police Department was also made aware of the incident and filed a report after which the state, FBI, and United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division were notified.
Chief Peter Mantello said that he received an FBI-issued intelligence report that detailed the motives of the group and that cited no previous history of violence — only similar acts of propaganda distribution.
“I’ve been here eight years so this to me would be the second type of [incident] that obviously is offensive to people,” Mantello said after recalling a similar act in which antisemitic fliers were found in the Calvin Coolidge Library. “Do I see a prevalence of [these issues] in Castleton? No, actually. I would say no. But the reality is that, nationally, you’ve got all sorts of groups out there.”
Mantello said Patriot Front is composed of some 300 members across the country with a primary goal of spreading propaganda for recruitment purposes. According to the American Defamation League, 80% of all reported incidents of propaganda distribution in 2020 were credited to the organization — promoting “a form of ‘patriotism’ that emboldens white supremacy, xenophobia, antisemitism, and fascism.”
An investigation is ongoing, but Mantello said things have somewhat stalled without testimony from anyone who witnessed the event or video footage.
Following the removal of the stickers, Mauhs-Pugh sent an email to Castleton community members and Chancellor Sophie Zdatny that denounced the incident and addressed students who felt targeted by the act to “know that you do belong.”
And while students impacted by this event praised the quickness with which campus administration and Public Safety responded to the vandalism, NAACP President Tajae Edwards and Secretary Kayon Morgan said they still felt as though more could’ve been done to reach out to students of color.
“We didn’t want this to be something that was swept under the rug,” Morgan said. “This is the reality of the situation of what it’s like and this is how people of color live in fear. [We] want administration to not only talk about it, but also issue accurate resources that will fight the problem and also encourage conversation about these issues.”
Morgan said while several teachers, and newly designated Student of Color Liaison Adnane Adossama, checked-in with her and other students, the lack of response from administration has individuals questioning whether the promotion of diversity on campus is “performative.”
Edwards also echoed a wish for a greater urgency in these types of situations and a more well-developed support system.
With students reaching out to him in fear of their well-being and with thoughts of leaving Castleton, he feels the need to voice his opinion and urge all students to do the same in support of their peers and the safety of the community.
“We don’t have to wait for administration to do certain things,” Edwards said. “We want [administration] to remember that students can’t do everything, but I feel like for your own safety, we have to stick together regardless.”
In response to this incident, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee has emailed Castleton community members an ally pledge and supportive tag lines reading “CU: You belong here!” — both of which are meant to be printed out and posted around campus in support of inclusivity. In addition, another panel discussion is being coordinated where students of color will be invited to share their perception of the incident.
“It’s never a good thing to feel afraid or to feel lack of support, so I would certainly want any student who feels they need additional support or any particular services or outreach to let me know and let Dennis Proulx know, let the Wellness Center know, so we can do a better job now in supporting students, but also do a better job should something like this happen again,” Mauhs-Pugh said.
Morgan said she wished this kind of issue wasn’t so “hush-hush” on campus. She wants people to be outraged. She wants to feel safe in the presence of her fellow students. Above all, she wants communication between administration and students of color — to be asked “what can we do for you?”
“People don’t want to talk about [these issues] because they don’t want to admit that it’s real. It’s so easy to live in this bubble. And the reality is, I wish I could live in the bubble too,” Morgan said. “I’ve come to realize that, even society, they don’t do anything until someone is hurt. Until it takes a life. And I never want to see a student of color on campus get hurt before some real change has to happen.”