On June 28, Salt Lake Community College sent out a college-wide notice in its weekly newsletter that made students and employees aware of unauthorized flyers found on campus.
The notice did not specify what information the flyers displayed or where they appeared, but it encouraged anyone negatively affected by them to reach out to the college’s Center for Health and Counseling as well as to various LGBTQ+ resources, including SLCC’s own Gender and Sexuality Student Resource Center (GSSRC), located at the South City campus.
One day later, a couple of students took the notice’s suggestion and visited the GSSRC office. But, when asked about the flyers, the center’s staff knew no more than the students.
“People had no idea what [the email] was about, and so they came to me asking questions because it was so vague, almost cryptic,” said Peter Moosman, manager of the GSSRC.
After meeting with the students, Moosman reached out to college administration. They sent Moosman a scanned copy of one of the flyers, which he and other GSSRC staff subsequently shared and denounced on their respective Instagram accounts.
The flyers did not contain any images, but spouted rhetoric common among anti-LGBTQ+, right-wing groups, asserting unfounded claims that the queer community pushes for “child sterilization,” pedophilia and “cult indoctrination.” The flyers concluded by equating support for Pride Month, June, with support for pedophilia.
“[The flyers] made me feel … like I’m not respected,” said Kai Lyon, a student working with the GSSRC through the college’s internship program. “It’s not healthy for a learning environment, in any way or shape.”
According to Peta Owens-Liston, assistant director of public relations at SLCC, an employee at the Miller campus identified and reported four flyers to the school’s public safety department on June 6. A student reported a fifth flyer one week later, on June 14, also at Miller.
After the discovery of the fifth flyer, SLCC’s public safety department notified both the dean of students, Candida Mumford, and the vice president for institutional equity, inclusion and transformation, Juone Kadiri. It was shortly thereafter that Kadiri authored and sent out the notice on June 28, three weeks after the first set of flyers were reported.
Owens-Liston said college officials did not immediately contact the GSSRC or other similar groups, like the Queer Student and Employee associations.
Campus police used security camera footage to identify the person who distributed the flyers. Owens-Liston could not confirm whether a student or a member of the college was behind the flyers, but she relayed that, as of three weeks ago, “ongoing disciplinary action” was being taken.
The individual in question violated the college’s advertising and posting policy, Owens-Liston said, as they did not go through the approval channels to post on campus, which led to the flyers’ removal.
However, the main point of contention among Moosman and other GSSRC members — the flyers’ writing and message, classifiable as hate speech — is not actionable by the college, Mumford said, because it still falls under the legal definition of free speech.
“It’s one of the challenges in higher-ed,” Mumford said. “I think most institutions are grappling with this … We’re really constrained by the legal system and by our legislature, and there are a lot of things that we [must] adhere to as an institution.”
In addition to her duties as dean of students, Mumford co-chairs the school’s bias response team, created last year to respond to reported incidents of hate and bias, usually those directed against marginalized groups. The group itself, however, does not handle disciplinary action, and instead channels its focus elsewhere.
“What we’re trying to do is elevate other voices so we can help educate and inform people [and] bring more dialogue,” Mumford said, pointing to an example last year when one student pulled off another’s hijab. That incident led to the organization of a forum, where a panel discussed the hijab and its cultural significance.
The department of public safety made the bias team aware of the flyers, but the team did not handle the response, Mumford said, as the flyers were not reported through them. Still, she noted that the bias team has logged the situation as a hate and bias incident, which will appear in a public report at the end of this academic year.
According to Owens-Liston, the college will form another group whose role will be to “review and make recommendations about the processes around incidents like this one.”
‘People are not being violent in silos’
In a statement to The Globe, Kadiri reiterated the college’s commitment to creating inclusive learning and working environments where “all feel welcome and respected.”
“While we are required to permit a broad spectrum of messaging on our campuses,” Kadiri continued, “we want to make it clear that we do not agree with and adamantly oppose any hate-filled and harmful messaging that targets specific groups or identities on our campuses.”
Under the First Amendment, words meant to incite violence — sometimes called “fighting words” — are generally not protected free speech. SLCC relays this on its website, but Mumford pointed out that the legal doctrine of “inciting violence” is not applicable to the flyers found at Miller due to its strict interpretation within courts.
For Moosman, however, the flyers are an example of “abusive and dangerous” attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community that exist among certain groups of people, a point he believes is of genuine concern.
“These are very strong claims that are driving people to physical acts of retaliation,” Moosman said of the flyers’ messaging, noting its prominence within anti-LGBTQ+ circles.
Moosman brought up similarly targeted actions that occurred in the state earlier this month, when pride flags were cut down from people’s homes and burned in a Salt Lake City neighborhood. Moosman also mentioned November’s Colorado Springs shooting, a more drastic example in which a lone gunman killed five people and injured 26 others at a gay bar.
“People are not being violent in silos,” he said. “They’re part of a bigger picture.”
Recalling the message sent out on June 28, both Moosman and Lyon wished SLCC had expressed more explicit words of solidarity with the queer community.