The student body president at Texas State University apologized Thursday night after classmates shared images and comments he had posted on social media that many students found racist and offensive.
"Did I do something stupid four years ago? Yes," Connor Clegg, a senior, said by telephone Friday. But he challenged anyone to look back on high school and ask themselves if they had done anything then that seemed ill-advised in retrospect. And he said the student who publicized his comments had been blatantly racist in a column he wrote about white people.
The controversy came amid cultural tensions at the large public university, where the recent anti-white column in the student newspaper generated death threats, and where repeated appearances of posters with white-supremacist messages worried students.
At many campuses across the country, issues of race and free speech are simmering, with some students posting racially offensive comments and images, writing about race and identity in provocative terms, and finding white-supremacist posters on walls. The Anti-Defamation League said incidents of white supremacists bringing their messages to colleges more than tripled in 2017. Texas campuses saw the most, they said - more than 50 just this past fall.
At least two factors may explain that increase, said Oren Segal of the Anti-Defamation League. White-supremacist groups may see a greater openness to their ideas on college campuses than in the past. And because universities have become a symbol of issues white-supremacists rail against - "diversity, multiculturalism, liberalism, P.C. culture," Segal said - schools may have emerged as targets.
At Texas State, where for the past two years more than half of the nearly 39,000 students have identified as a racial or ethnic minority, several instances of racially provocative posters appearing on campus have been reported. In December, university police at the San Marcos school caught five men, none of them students, with posters and warned them to stay off campus.
In late November, Clegg, the student-body president, called for editors of the campus newspaper, the University Star, to be fired and funding revoked after he read student Rudy Martinez's column titled, "Your DNA is an abomination."
The column included lines such as, "Ontologically speaking, white death will mean liberation for all . . . accept this death as the first step toward defining yourself as something other than the oppressor," and, "Until then, remember this: I hate you because you shouldn't exist. You are both the dominant apparatus on the planet and the void in which all other cultures, upon meeting you, die."
The university's president, Denise Trauth, issued a statement saying she was deeply troubled by the column, which she called racist and abhorrent.
Martinez said Friday he wrote the column hoping to "grab young white students at Texas State University and the surrounding community and throw them into an arena of cognitive dissonance," to make them question their position as a white person in America. To call it racist, he said, "I think it comes out of a place of fear." He said Clegg and Trauth "take shelter within this white power structure we have in this country. I don't think they wanted to see the nuances in that piece."
At a hearing on free speech held on campus earlier this week, Martinez described the column as a metaphorical essay on white privilege, according to university spokesman Matt Flores. Flores said Martinez and editors at the paper reported getting death threats after the column ran.
The editors later apologized and said Martinez would no longer write for the paper.
Earlier this week, Martinez shared social media postings by Clegg with the comment, "Connor Clegg is indicative of what Texas State has become in the last 16 months: 'A billboard for racism.' If we want to take our campus back, it begins with removing this pig from office. #impeachclegg".
"I deem Connor Clegg a racist," Martinez said. "He is in no way adequate to be our student-body president."
The University Star published images of 2014 posts from Clegg's Instagram account, which they said was deactivated Thursday afternoon. One was a selfie with two Asian men in the background and hashtags such as "#kimjongil", "#pearlharborwasbad" and "a - holes." Another showed photos of nuns walking away with comments including "holybooty," "idcloisterthat-ss" and "amen."
An online petition calling for his impeachment had more than 1,400 digital signatures Friday.
On Friday, the president of Texas State issued a statement, saying, "We expect our students to uphold the university's core values of diversity, inclusion and unity - especially our student government leaders. Connor has apologized. I am hopeful that his apology truly reflects his sentiments."
A photo posted by Clegg in 2017 came from a Halloween party. It showed several people including Clegg and a person in an Abraham Lincoln costume with a comment about emancipation that Clegg described as "a little bit boorish - culturally insensitive." He said it was in bad taste but "it was not racist."
Clegg said he grew up in a small town in Texas that was "a little bit of an echo chamber" and said college had taught him the richness of cultural diversity.