By KALINA SAWYER ‘18
“Confused.” “Disappointed.” “Furious.” 50 students, crammed together in the Intercultural House on the night of September 18, shared these reactions—among others of a similar nature—to the just-dissolved Facebook group originally titled, “The United White Association.”
After a 72-hour Facebook debate, the group—started by Battle Kenney ‘18 in the early hours of September 16—had transformed from “The United White Association” to “In Search of Truth” to finally an unreachable link on Facebook, immortalized by screenshots and reactionary posts.
The International Student Organization held the initial gathering at the Intercultural House as a safe space to digest what had transpired over the weekend. It was only the first in a series of campus dialogues related to the Facebook group.
On Friday, September 22, more than 70 students, faculty, and administrators gathered in the Mohr Student Center Skybox for an open forum to “respond to current tension on campus and in our nation about race, diversity, fairness and equality,” according to President Stephen Schutt.
“Polarized views exist to some extent on this campus,” Schutt began the forum, “and unfortunate things have been said by students who clearly see the world in different ways.”
Schutt explained he was referring to Kenney’s Facebook group and its title, “United White Association,” saying, “that naming seemed calculated to make certain groups of people feel, at best, uncomfortable and, at worst, frightened.”
But what was the group’s initial intention, and why call it “United White Association” was a question many participants were eager to hear.
In the group’s online “mission statement,” Kenney wrote: “The United White Association is an organization of Lake Forest College Students. The organization promotes rational thought and encourages members to identify double standards in today’s culture.”
Kenney elaborated in an email interview with The Stentor that “while the idea of embracing cultural diversity is ever present on campus, as it should be, embracing intellectual diversity is not.” He explained that this group was started “to provide a forum for discussion with intellectually diverse thoughts and members…the intention was not to be harmful, hateful, or exclusionary in any way.”
It was the name, rather than the mission, that produced the most controversy on campus. As Schutt noted at the Friday forum: “the purported goals appear to be lifted largely from the College’s mission statement (pursue intellectual reason, think logically and critically, work effectively with others)… but the label submerged whatever the intent may have been.”
Kenney explained to The Stentor that his intention for the group name was twofold.
The first reason, he explained, was superficial: “You could say that it was ‘click-bait’,” he said, wanting the name of his organization to be “provocative and outrageous.”
The second reason for his title was “to identify the double standards promoted in today’s culture. The name, ‘The United White Association,’ was just an example of identifying a double standard in today’s culture.”
On Facebook, and amid student discussion, this accusation of double standards was heavily criticized.
Lake Forest College alum, Devin Tyler ‘17, wrote on Facebook: “There can never be a double standard between a dominating race (which whites are) and minorities. This implies that racism is not only dead, but that black and other minorities are milking whites through their white guilt.”
Another alumni, Kirsten Slora ‘17, pointed out “it is clearly a mockery of United Black Association…white people have been considered ‘superior’ for so long, that equality feels like discrimination for those who are ignorant to the facts of the system.”
Bernie Facio ‘18 responded more forgivingly, writing on Facebook: “I’m in favor of freedom in organization as long as other peoples’ liberties are respected. If the group name is changed and ‘double standards’ clearly defined (as one of the objectives of the group is to discuss them in their meetings), I see nothing wrong in this group.”
The group name was changed, to “In Search of Truth.” and Kenney called the original title “shortsighted.”
“I changed the name because Kanoe Montaño (‘18) brought up a strong and reasonable argument against it… [The original title was] misconstrued as being hateful, which it was not intended to be. I never really thought the name would be interpreted in such a way,” he wrote in his interview.
But even after changing the name, students continued to criticize and question the organization via Facebook, and Kenney decided to delete the group only two days after its creation.
Schutt clarified, “The United White Association (or any alternative namings of Kenney’s group) never existed” as a registered student organization.
The online group may have disappeared, but students have expressed how its effect has not been lost on the community.
“Lake Forest College for the last four years has been like home to me, a safe haven. When this group appeared in the community, it seemed like [Kenney] was dismissing everyone, especially all of the minorities in today’s societies,” Mustafa Rahman ‘18 said at the ISO meeting.
For others, it’s been an alert that the College needs to better address racial tension. At Friday’s forum, Marketa Riley ‘20 criticized the school’s slow (and initially quiet) response to the group.
“People have been crying, feeling no support,” she said. “Not one professor this week has mentioned what’s going on. No one is doing a good enough job letting students know that they hear us.”
For Kenney, the fallout has been personal. In the week since creating and deleting his Facebook group, Kenney said at the forum he has been “getting hate letters taped to (his) door…Facebook messages telling (him) he’s a nazi and that he should kill (himself)… perfectly good strangers telling (him) that people like (him) should be killed.”
“I appreciate and recognize other people’s right to be upset and react how they see fit, but I would hope that they would be treated better than I have if they were to be a part of something so controversial,” Kenney wrote in his email interview.
Schutt wrote in a recent email that when it comes to reducing tension on campus, “we have work to do, and the forum was just a start.”
But Schutt pointed out that the process of community resolution is happening right now, through the voices of students.
“Education did happen this week,” Schutt said in Friday’s forum. “If someone voices a mistaken or even hateful idea, then prompt, clear and persuasive rebuttals can lay the bad idea to rest. This process is vital to a true education,” he echoed in a recent email. He continued by disavowing white supremacy and “any expression that calls to mind the murderous history of that notion.”
Schutt has requested ideas on “ways to reduce the tension that led to Friday’s forum” and “strengthening our campus community.” If you have ideas or comments in response to the above incidents, The Stentor invites you to write a “Letter to the editor” or opinion piece for our upcoming issue.
Check in with The Stentor at stentornews.com for Kalina’s full interview with Battle Kenney and updates on this story.
Kalina Sawyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org