After a problematic series of posts advocating for “white culture” hit the Fort Lewis College app on Oct. 11, questions of inclusivity and proper representation of FLC’s diverse student population rang through campus.
In the late evening hours of Indigenous People’s Day, a series of memes pertaining to “white culture” were posted, sparking a wildfire on the app. Suddenly, Native students on the FLC app had to defend their cultures on a day dedicated to celebrating them.
In short, the memes were posted as a critique on the lack of celebration of “white culture.” The author of the post did not define “white culture.”
Screenshots of the posts were acquired by The Independent.
The author of the post declined to comment for this story.
For the most part, commenters were not upset about the author of the post’s opinion alone, but rather that it was posted on Indigenous People’s Day.
“It felt like a direct attack on it,” Kamry Chewing, third-year FLC student and commenter on the post, said.
The original post was deleted, and an apology was posted by the author of the post, according to screenshots.
The original post was deleted, but the fall-out from the original post was still present. Both in the apology post’s comment section and on the student feed, Native students posted arguments for or against the rhetoric of the original post.
When the conversations on the app turned less progressive and more harmful, a group of students including Wyatt Wilson, second-year FLC student, reported the anti-Native posts to FLC’s Native American Center, whereupon campus administration got involved, Wilson said.
Wilson was informed that all posts related to the incident would be deleted off the app, he said.
According to multiple sources, the Native student’s posts that condemned the original post were deleted before others.
“It was a very crazy situation, unlike anything I’d been a part of before,” Wilson said. “We were silenced in front of the entire school.”
The information technology department was responsible for deleting the posts, but it was taking orders from somebody else, said Matthew McGlamery, Director of IT for FLC. McGlamery declined to name the individual, and said that since the incident, the department has created an ad hoc policy to only delete posts if the order is coming from top campus officials.
The way that the posts were deleted were due to a complete lack of policy around the app, McGlamery said. The app, and the student feed feature on the app where the issues occurred, have been available for five years, but have been largely unused by students until this year, McGlamery said.
Only this year, after the COVID-19 safety and tracing features of the app made the app mandatory for students, has the student feed feature been popular, McGlamery said. Therefore, this kind of conflict was unprecedented, and the IT department lacked the expertise to navigate the situation alone, McGlamery said.
In an email sent out to campus a week after the incident, FLC President Tom Stritikus said that the FLC administration is now working with FLC’s student body government to create guidelines for posting in the app that align with the Student Code of Conduct. The email was titled “FLC stands with Indigenous Peoples.”
“I also was made aware that the FLC App had a series of postings that did not reflect respect or civility toward others,” Stritikus said in the email. “While everyone is entitled to expression, I implore our community to uphold civility and positive discourse with your peers.”
Officially, campus administration can’t do much when it comes to comments from students that don’t fit the standards set by FLC’s discriminatory harassment policy, citing students’ First Amendment right to free speech, said David Pirrone, FLC’s equal opportunity coordinator, who is designated to handle harassment complaints that come from the app.
If a student is found to have violated the policy, the college prefers to educate rather than discipline, Pirrone said.
Pirone could not comment on the specifics of this incident.
But even if nobody in this scenario violated a discrimination policy, the incident demonstrates that FLC still has work to do in terms of inclusivity, and the feelings of Native students following the incident demonstrate this.
Ally Gee, senior FLC student, became the target of a separate post during this incident for the way she had commented in opposition to both the original post and it’s apology.
That post singled out Gee, on the basis of her former role as FLC Hozhoni Ambassador, and criticized her for participating in the criticism of the post, according to the post. The post used a video that Gee had made with FLC about the Navajo concept of Ké against her, saying that Gee’s actions were contradictory to Ké , according to the post.
The author posted it because he was disappointed that a well-known student leader would condone the attacks made against the author of the original post after she had apologized, the author said in a message to The Independent.
Ké, the Navajo concept that the post had referred to, is about kinship and respect for all living things. This is stated in the FLC video included in the required COVID-19 "Health Awareness Certification for Students" Canvas course.
Ké also means a respect for oneself, but Gee did not include this in the video because she was explaining Ké in the context of promoting safety and responsibility during the pandemic, Gee said
The video was made after public health professors reached out to Gee, a public health major, to see if she had any ideas for Indigenous concepts to connect to COVID-19 protocol. Gee chose to share Ké with the rest of the campus after consulting with her parents, and the video was born, Gee said.
“I gave up a very important piece of myself to share that with campus,” Gee said. “As Indigenous people, it’s not our job to educate others or provide cultural information, so when we do, it takes a lot from us.”
The post was hurtful to Gee because it felt like it used a concept that she brought to campus against her, she said. Further, one of the few justifications the post used for singling out Gee was that she was a well-known student leader.
“People think that being in a position of power means that you have to tolerate abuse or that type of rhetoric,” Gee said, referring to her role as Hozhoni Ambassador. “But you don’t. And we don’t owe it to anyone to be respectful if they’re not being respectful to us.”
Gee said that she doesn’t think that these issues stem from a lack of representation on campus. She said that the Native American Center does a wonderful job of making her feel at home and putting on cultural events.
Instead, it’s that non-Native students are rarely seen at these events or using the resources provided by FLC to better understand non-white cultures, Gee said.
As FLC moves forward from the events that took place on the app, one thing should remain clear—it is not, and never has been, Native students’ job to educate non-Native students about the repression, and history of repression, that they have faced, Chewing, Wilson, and Gee all said.