This is the website where YAF spokesman Spencer Brown shared his article about an alleged poster ban at Ripon College.
This is the website where YAF spokesman Spencer Brown shared his article about an alleged poster ban at Ripon College.

   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 Examiner, The Daily Wire, The Blaze, Independent 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.”

    For more on this issue, see the Sept. 6, 2018 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.