When what you read is wrong

Young Americans for Freedom:

Citing bias reports filed during last year’s 9/11: Never Forget Project, administrators at Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin, ruled that YAF’s 9/11: Never Forget Project posters are creating an “environment” where “students from a Muslim background would feel singled out and/or harassed.” As a result, Ripon administrators will not allow the Ripon Young Americans for Freedom to hang the flyers as part of their work to remember the victims of September 11 or other victims of radical Islamist terrorism.

When leaders from Ripon YAF pressed administrators in a meeting to explain what was objectionable about the posters which merely depict history, the school’s “Bias Protocol Board” failed to provide anything more than the usual bizarre leftist excuses that rely on feelings, rather than facts, to back up their censorship.

According to administrators, the objections were “raised to the administration and the bias incident team about the environment that that [the poster] creates… That because of the focus, in this case relentlessly on one religious organization, one religious group, one religious identity—in associating that one religious identity with terrorist attacks which go back far before 9/11 and after 9/11— creates for some students here an environment which they feel like they are not able to learn.”

Administrators reminded the students that Ripon college is a private institution and therefore Ripon can decide what it feels is appropriate for display on campus and what is not. According to the administrators, they are allowed to rule on bias complaints using a “cost-benefit analysis” where they seek to understand “to what extent does something advance” or “hinder… the educational mission of the institution.” YAF would remind Ripon administrators that being a private institution does not render it immune from criticism of its decisions, especially when they attempt to censor key moments in our nation’s history that would be forgotten if not for bold Young Americans for Freedom activists such as those in Ripon YAF.

“There is nothing that this poster, in particular, adds to the conversation about 9/11, or about the politics of terrorism, or about national security or responses to it that couldn’t be done easily and more constructively without it,” claimed the members of the Bias Protocol Board.

“Some things [on the poster] don’t have anything to do with 9/11—ISIS, for example,” asserted one administrator. “I’m not sure I think the Iran hostage issue was Islamic terrorism,” said another.

Students of history will recall that the Iran hostage crisis was “America’s first searing experience with Islamist terrorism,” and that ISIS rose out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and al-Qaeda carried out the deadly attacks of 9/11, as well as other attacks highlighted on the poster.

“I wouldn’t see the Pulse [nightclub] shooting as related to New York. If I were LGBT, oh yeah, that’s what that picture’s for. I do know that the shooter mentioned some comments and pledged some allegiance, but that’s not at all what the media portrayed it as.” Whether the media portrayed the truth or not (the media largely did report the shooter’s commitment to radical Islamist terror), the Pulse nightclub attacker did say “I did it for ISIS. I did it for the Islamic State.” What’s more, to claim that the deadliestterror attack in the United States since 9/11—murdering 49 innocent people—is only meaningful to the LGBT community is inexplicable.

Administrators further—and falsely—claim that one of their objections is because radical Islamist terrorism “represents a small percentage of the terrorist attacks that happened to this country, and they don’t represent the full gamut, and they show a very small picture of a specific religion or nationality instead of the larger viewpoint.” From 1992 to 2017, Islamists were responsible for 92% of deaths caused by terrorism in the United States, and are “far and away, the deadliest group of terrorists by ideology.”

Trying to reiterate their objections, administrators pointed out that, “It seems like the only terrorist activities brought up in this poster are those done by extremist Islamic groups, and so if I’m Muslim on this campus, like, ok, it sends the message that all terrorism happens by Muslims.”

Just as remembrances of horrific events carried out in the name of Nazism or Communism include honoring other victims of those ideological treacheries, so does the remembrance of the attacks carried out by radical Islamists on September 11, 2001.

“The intent is admirable to talk about why are we killing each other,” said an administrator. “That’s very admirable, and I support that, but what about school shootings? We’ve had almost a school shooting a day for the last ten days, and we’re continuing to up the body count.”  The administrator then suggested discussing Buddhist terrorism in Myanmar before threatening the students that, “If you put this poster out there… you’re going to get the same negative results. It’s these images.”

There is a problem with what you have just read, and it’s reported by the Ripon Commonwealth Press:

Ripon College has been refuting what it states is misinformation being spread by several partisan news organizations.

Several websites have reported that the college allegedly has banned posters about 9/11.

Ripon College representatives insist they have banned no posters.

The incident stems from an article posted on YAF.org, the website for the conservative group Young Americans for Freedom (YAF).

In it, author Spencer Brown claims Ripon College banned the college’s YAF chapter from posting 9/11 memorial posters.

His article then was the basis for a series of additional stories targeting Ripon College.

Ripon College’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications Melissa Anderson was unequivocal in refuting this claim.

“These posters are not banned,” she said.

Ripon College also released an official statement via social media elaborating on that point:

“There has been much misinformation posted related to a recent discussion between Ripon College officials and student members of the Ripon College Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter regarding a 9/11 poster and memorial. Ripon College encourages an environment for free speech and civil dialogue on our campus. The YAF posters are not, and have never been, banned. After receiving complaints from our students about the YAF Islamic extremism posters last year, College officials gave the Ripon College YAF student representatives suggestions as to how to have a discussion about 9/11 this year with our entire campus and community. The annual 9/11 flag memorial is a great example of how YAF students engage the entire community.”

Anderson noted Brown claimed the Bias Protocol Board at Ripon College banned such posters; however, she explained that is not true.

“That Bias Protocol Board is not a decision-making board,” Anderson said. “It has no authority. Its job is to hear complaints, hear from those who have been accused of creating something that’s bias and to have an open discussion about ways to avoid it. In no way shape or form, was the word ‘ban’ ever used.”

She noted students did have an issue with YAF’s posters last year and talked to the Bias Protocol Board about it.

“The poster has several depictions of beheading and other things that some of our students have found offensive [and] concerns have been brought up to a Bias Protocol Board that we have in place to deal with things like this,” Anderson said.

She noted college administrators have taken no action against the local YAF chapter. Instead, she explained, discussions have been held on how to include the entire campus in the chapter’s 9/11 memorial this year.

“It’s a response to complaints from students who find it offensive and biased towards a certain ethnicity,” Anderson said. “But keep in mind, all we’re having are conversations with the local YAF chapter … These posters are not banned; the students were asked to think of different ways to involve the entire campus community in their Sept. 11 tribute.”

Brown told the Commonwealth that his reporting was based on an audio recording he had received of a Bias Protocol Board meeting attended by Ripon College registrar Michele Wittler, Vice President and Dean of Faculty Ed Wingenbach, Director of Residence Life Mark Nicklaus, Director of Multicultural Affairs Kyonna Henry, and Associate Professor of Exercise Science Professor Mark Cole.

He said the names were provided to him by “student activists we work with who alerted us to this situation.”

Since the college has not banned the posters, Anderson said, it was taken by surprise when articles were posted saying otherwise.

“This is kind of very unexpected,” she said. “… Really the source of the misinformation begins with YAF National, Spencer Brown and his article.”

Anderson added once Brown’s article was posted on the YAF website, it “spread like wildfire.”

The article had been picked up by various partisan news media outlets, such as Washington ExaminerThe Daily WireThe BlazeIndependent Journal Review and more.

None of them, Anderson noted, ever contacted Ripon College to see if the claim was true.

“You’ll notice that no Ripon official was quoted in the [YAF] article whatsoever and any of the subsequent articles,” she said. “No, not a single one [contacted the college].”

Because of the misinformation it alleges is being spread due to these articles, the college is working to clear the air about the alleged poster ban along with the flag memorial the local YAF chapter undertakes every year.

“There’s two issues that have been stuck in some of these false articles,” Anderson said. “One, just generally, is the memorial tribute for Sept. 11 victims. Every year our local chapter of YAF leads that effort by putting flags on the Hardwood Memorial lawn … It’s a cherished event that we have every year. We take photos of it. It’s included on our social media. We share it around [and]  we put it in our publications to honor those who lost their lives.”

Anderson explained that in posting his article, Brown used an image of the flag tribute that the local YAF chapter organizes every year, which she said led to more confusion and misinformation.

“He had an image of the flag tribute … and then subsequent articles also picked that image up,” she said. “The big issue here is that the only thing that was a point of discussion was the poster and at no point was it banned, which I have evidentiary proof of actually. What happened is the media [and] those stories kind of got it inflated to the point where people were associating the ban, that never happened, with the flag tribute.”

Due to concerns that the college banned posters and the flag tribute, many individuals have flocked to Ripon College’s Facebook page to post comments disparaging the college and to give the college bad reviews.

In less than 48 hours, 54 “does not recommend” and one-star reviews were left on the college’s Facebook page.

Some of the comments state the college is “a disgrace to America,” and  an “unpatriotic college. Faculty and staff would rather pander to those who may be offended rather than a national tragedy.”

Other comments suggested “the free exchange of ideas is one of the primary purposes of Colleges and Universities. Ripon would do well to remember that.”

Anderson sees these comments as byproducts of the false information that was spread.

“What we’re responding to is a bunch of misinformation” she said. “People are obviously angry and concerned. ‘Why would a college restrict a celebration that honors Sept. 11 and its victims?’ We’re doing the best job we can to set the record straight.”

Along with its statement on social media, college administrators are “answering every call and every email that we receive and sharing the actual truth,” Anderson said. “It’s an unfortunate situation that this day and age we’re having to fight for the truth.”

I am told the posters were displayed, so in this case the college’s response seems more credible than YAF’s accusations.

YAF then came out with this self-congratulatory revision:

Following last week’s original reporting in the New Guard, Ripon College sent its liberal lap dogs after Young America’s Foundation and the myriad pieces of coverage on the school’s bizarre objections to the memorial posters used as part of YAF’s iconic 9/11: Never Forget Project.

Ripon College claims that because they never used the word “ban” in reference to the posters memorializing innocent victims of radical Islamist terrorism, they don’t deserve the criticism that’s been leveled at them. To be clear, YAF’s reporting never used the word ban, only repeated direct quotes from administrators on the school’s Bias Response Team, a body which refused to approve any version of the 9/11: Never Forget Project poster. It seems self-evident but in our view, as well as the view of the larger press, a refusal to grant approval is the equivalent of a ban.

Let’s go back to the original YAF release:

As a result, Ripon administrators will not allow the Ripon Young Americans for Freedom to hang the flyers as part of their work to remember the victims of September 11 or other victims of radical Islamist terrorism.

The headline on the revision was “Ripon College’s Ban by Any Other Name.” That previous sentence sounds like “ban” to me, which was YAF’s accusation. It is weaseling to claim that because YAF didn’t use the word “ban” that YAF never reported that Ripon College banned the poster. To most people “will not allow” and “ban” are synonyms.

Our original reporting quoted portions of a 38-minute recording of the meeting between Ripon YAF and administrators obtained by Young America’s Foundation. Since apparently those excerpts weren’t enough to show the bias team’s intent, below are some additional, previously-unreported quotes (emphasis added) that further show the opposition to Ripon YAF’s plans to distribute posters in remembrance of the victims of 9/11 and radical Islamist terror. We stand by our reporting, as well as the widespread coverage Ripon College has been mentioned in related to this situation.

In discussing the Bias Protocol Board’s review of bias complaints against the posters, an administrator says of the bias panel’s findings on the posters, “The concerns about the education environment outweigh any potential contribution to the education environment. There is nothing that this poster in particular adds to the conversation about 9/11.” They add, “The fact that there are genuine concerns about [the poster’s] negative consequences leads to a pretty easy cost/benefit analysis that the poster doesn’t need to be up.”

Despite offering more than a dozen times to consider making edits or additions to the posters in order to address some of the administrators’ concerns, the school’s leaders refused to grant approval and refused to express concern for anti-conservative bias that clearly exists at Ripon College. Instead, administrators call the posters “problematic,” say “there’s a problem in the product,” and chastise the students by saying “you kind of miss the mark.” If this is a supportive administration, as Ripon College has claimed in their attempts at damage control, I’d hate to see an oppositional one.

Hannah Krueger, chair of Ripon College Young Americans for Freedom, released a statement further clarifying her chapter’s mission and addressing recent criticism, saying that Ripon YAF “champions free speech from all viewpoints.” Krueger notes that her YAF chapter is “relatively new” but “no stranger to adversity and conflict” on campus. She adds that “It is because I love the college that I cannot stand by and watch organizations be pressured [to censor themselves].”

So now it’s being “pressured,” not a “ban” whatever words you’d like to use. I guarantee you that none of the campus activists of any political bent when I was at UW–Madison, then (and probably now) the most political college campus on Earth, would have knuckled under or used weasel words when faced with authority.

Let’s read Krueger’s statement:

Ripon College Administration has never “banned” the 9/11 memorial or the posters in question. The original YAF article never utilizes the word “ban.” Reporters repeatedly asked me if the College had banned the posters, and I repeatedly replied that “ban” was an inappropriate word for the situation. Many in the media on both sides of the issue made their own assumptions. …

Our 9/11 “Never Forget” posters are presented to the Student Judiciary Board year after year to determine if they violate poster policy, and each year the students on that board decide that they are in accordance with posting policy. It was only this last year that our posters signaled a new investigation by the Bias Incident Response Team.

In our meeting on Tuesday, August 28th, the members of the Bias Incident Response Team stated they had found issues with our posters—which we had displayed last year— as early as September 2017. Ripon College YAF members were informed of this issue in May 2018, during the last weeks of school. This gave us little time to respond, as officers were studying for and taking final exams. In an effort to identify what the specific issues were, I was referred to the Dean of Students. As he was not a member of the Bias Incident Response Team, he was unable to give a clear and concise answer of what was purportedly wrong with our posters.

He then referred me to the Bias Incident Response Team, a board composed of mainly administrators, which ultimately has no power to dictate the actions of student groups, but one who can make recommendations to the administration who then can take action. Why does this board exist? If the school believes in free speech and discussion, it would not have a panel of faculty and administrators that strangles discussion by determining what it feels is “appropriate.” The term “biased” is itself derogatory and used to stifle speech. President Messitte is correct in that the way to deal with speech one disagree with is more posters and speech, but there are groups of students and faculty who prefer to throw about disparaging labels and call certain activities and posters “biased.” Instead of a bias protocol board, the administration might establish a free speech board to ensure all ideas are heard on campus, not just those the school determines are appropriate and will not jostle liberal sensibilities. …

In the meeting, YAF proposed adding other images to the poster to avoid creating the anti-Muslim bias that the board was convinced our posters exhibited. We were willing to include events like Oklahoma City and other suggestions that the team had. The Bias Incident team told us that these images would appear to be an afterthought and would not make the poster any less of an issue. No matter what YAF offered to add or change about the poster, the team found reasons to disagree. The supposed mediator of the meeting, Dean Ed Wingenbach, was the one who offered the greatest argument of why the posters did not need to be up. We were pressured to make completely new posters. The members of the Bias Incident Response Team found no acceptable way to display these posters

It appears that the Bias Incident Response Team is itself biased.

Ripon Media, formerly known as the Ripon College Days student newspaper, adds:

In an email, Brown clarified that the http://www.yaf.org article never explicitly used the word “banned.” Brown said that the administration’s alleged comments during a meeting with Ripon YAF members, specifically that putting their posters up would cause a negative reaction from the student body, “are what I believe led many in the press to close the circle and call the board’s attempted intimidation of the YAF students a ban.”

“Ripon is attempting to save face by claiming the letter of their ruling does not imply the spirit of their ruling would be to keep the posters from being displayed,” Brown said.

According to Melissa Anderson, vice president of marketing and communications, a meeting did occur between Ripon YAF members and Ripon administrators, however the meeting was requested by YAF and did not lead to a “ruling” of any sort.

“The YAF leadership requested that the bias team explain how their poster could be considered biased. That generated a wide-ranging exchange of ideas and perspectives as everyone in the meeting discussed how the poster might be perceived by various audiences, what sort of reactions it is intended to elicit, and whether the poster itself actually meets the goals our YAF students articulated,” Anderson said. “The meeting was not a hearing or a trial, but a conversation, and the quotes in the article were part of that conversation.”

Brown’s article contains multiple quotes that are attributed to unnamed Ripon administrators, who he later identified in an email as Michelle Wittler, Ed Wingenbach, Mark Nicklaus, and Kyonna Henry. Brown said the quotes used in his article were from the meeting between administrators and YAF students and that for questions surrounding attribution “I’ve been suggesting ‘According to a recording of the meeting obtained by Young America’s Foundation…’”

“There may have been a recorder in the room but no college official was aware of it,” Anderson said.

As of yet, no recording of the meeting in question has been released by YAF’s national organization or its local members and the existence of such a recording has not been verified.

As someone with, as readers know, connections to Ripon College, I find the existence of a Bias Incident Resource Team ludicrous. I also find YAF’s claim of a ban and then backpedaling to be disingenuous bordering on duplicitous. I also find YAF’s unwillingness to identify the unnamed college administrators they quote very revealing. Based on this one instance I don’t find the national YAF to be a very good messenger for the conservative cause on college campuses, at least in its willing distortion of what appears to have happened at Ripon College.

Conservatives claim to be more moral than liberals. Being more moral means telling the truth, not just your version of the truth.



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