How Five Weeks Strengthened My Resolve


I settle down at my computer, at least six tabs open on Chrome, my email popping up with a notification, and Word staring back with one 90-page document open, waiting for me to continue.  It is not yet ten-thirty and two of my supervisors are away at a conference. My fellow intern, Jerneice, sits across an aisle from me and Lecia Brooks, the director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center and of SPLC on Campus, sits to my right. The music from my headphones lulls to background noise and I open another Word doc, further crowding my screen, as I begin to type.

Two months ago, I spent more time than I would like to admit adjusting my resume—cutting out irrelevant jobs and cramming in experience—for a job at a nonprofit I had hesitated applying to a year and a half ago. At that time, I was unsure of where I wanted to be after my undergrad. I felt ill prepared for life after college and was taking a full course load to graduate faster and rush into the unknown. My major, anthropology, had nurtured my passion for people and I had been determined to go to law school and help others any way I could. But, seeing as I was rushing through my degree and graduating in the fall semester, I was kind of stuck because I couldn’t apply for spring admission at any law schools I was interested in. After taking a Deaf culture class and finishing all my major requirements, I was determined to fight for the rights of others. I looked into an internship and a couple other jobs at the Southern Poverty Law Center, but dismissed applying because I was almost a year from graduation with no time for a full-time job.

In the fall, a new master’s program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights was announced. I was beyond ecstatic to be accepted and I started a new degree three weeks after walking across the stage at Troy University for my first.  A couple months into the program, we were encouraged to attend a presentation at the student center by SPLC. My classmates and I filed in, sitting on the same row, and listened attentively. Shortly thereafter, I was in contact with the coordinator for SPLC on Campus, Daniel Davis, and trying to start a chapter at UAB. In May, he announced an internship opportunity for the summer. Here, I spent too much time adjusting my resume and sent it in along with a lengthy writing sample from a class that semester.

I wasn’t extremely nervous before my interview, but it was via video chat, so that was a new experience for me. A few days after, HR called me to offer me a job and my reply was, “Awesome!” That pretty much sums up my experience here at SPLC on Campus. The atmosphere is so accepting, warm, and encouraging; everyone I have met is genuine and kind. In fact, on my first day, I met Richard Cohen, the President, in the elevator and he introduced himself as the “elevator operator.” Morris Dees, the founder, took all the interns to a lunch on the weekend following orientation and encouraged everyone to eat their fill of Southern comfort foods. My team is my favorite part, though, besides knowing that I’m helping others. Shay DeGolier, Outreach and Organizing Specialist, Daniel, Lecia, Jerneice, and I are the driving force behind SPLC on Campus this summer. I’ve been working on gathering resources and links to post on our website for students and other interested individuals to utilize. Compiling a list of social justice organizations at each of the ten largest universities/colleges in every state is my other major task; this is the 90-page list that is still a work-in-progress. 

As founder of the UAB chapter, being on the other end of this process is enlightening. There is so much work that goes into ensuring all chapters run smoothly: providing resources and items for them, travelling to speak at events they participate in or for conferences, constantly monitoring news and media for the site and social media, etc. SPLC on Campus is only two years old—and has accomplished so much in so little time. Lately, I had been wondering how much I could actually help others. How much can one person actually change things? They can significantly; reminders of this are all around me. Morris Dees works upstairs, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s office is a few blocks away at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the Civil Rights Memorial greets me everyday on my way to work, and the Civil Rights Memorial Center, profoundly powerful and emotional, is my view from the building windows. Being around so much inspiration, determination, and productivity has encouraged me to follow my path to human rights law. My time here around so many empowered individuals has strengthened my resolve to help protect the rights of others. The SPLC on Campus team have been extremely helpful, fun to work with, and very involved in current events and with their chapters. They inspired me to be proactive and to help UAB’s chapter to be involved and active on campus.

-Caitlin Beard, SPLC on Campus Intern

A Primer on Responding to Hate in Your Backyard

Taking methods from the SPLC's updated Ten Ways to Fight Hate, Steve Tanner of 500 Pens has written this list of the best ways to respond in the face of hate and bigotry: 

1. Draw Attention Away From Hateful Protests and Demonstrations

Whether it’s a Ku Klux Klan rally down main street or an anti-immigrant protest at a public park, the best response is to draw attention away from the event by creating an alternative, as noted in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC’s) Ten Ways to Fight Hate: Community Response Guide. Sure, the natural response is to attend the rally and stage a counter-protest, but such confrontations tend to serve the perpetrators (in this case, the bigoted demonstrators) and often lead to violence.

Instead, the SPLC advocates that “every act of hatred should be met with an act of love and unity.” Specifically, this could take the form of an alternative event — held at the same time as the hate-based event but in a different area — emphasizing the strength of the community in all its diversity.

For example, once when the Klan came to Indianapolis for a rally, museums and other local attractions provided free admission to city residents; a youth rally was held by community leaders in a ballroom; and a coalition of community leaders took out a full-page newspaper ad deploring the Klan and what they stand for. Similarly, a Klan rally in Pulaski, Tenn. (the birthplace of the KKK) prompted local businesses to close down, which meant there were no restaurants or even public restrooms for the Klan marchers.  

2. Do Not Engage with the Attackers
People who show disregard or outright hatred for Muslims, African Americans, Jews, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants, or members of other minority groups cannot be expected to act rationally. This means confronting or arguing with such individuals likely will not help the situation, but could actually pour gasoline on the fire.

“People attacking and using hate speech are acting on high emotions; the antidote isn’t trying to reason with them or throw facts at them,” explains Amy Cox, Director of the International Peace and Conflict Resolution master’s program at Arcadia University in Philadelphia. “Bad situations become worse when individuals try to directly address the attacker.”

So if confronting the attacker is the wrong approach in most situations, then what can you do when hate rears its ugly head? Generally, we want to protect the person being attacked.

3. Focus on Protecting the Attacked Person
If it’s a random person on a train, the sidewalk, a restaurant, or some other public place, the key is to help the person being targeted to feel safe and protected or to physically create a safe space for them, Cox explains. She acknowledges that our knee-jerk reaction is often to try and “talk down” the perpetrator, but stresses that helping the person being attacked is almost always the safest and more effective approach. She offers the following guidelines:

  • Engage the attacked person in a conversation about something random (such as the weather) just to interrupt the hateful act.
  • Gently step between the attacker and the attacked person, engaging the attacked person with simple conversation or even just a smile.
  • Give the attacked person a safe place to move toward, such as a seat in a different area of the bus or a spot where they would feel more secure.
  • Act as if you know the person being attacked and pull them away from the unpleasant situation.

This strategy also is explained through a series of illustrations titled “What to do if you are witnessing Islamophobic harassment” by an artist named Maeril. In the illustrated guide, all of the focus is on creating a safe space for the attacked individual (depicted as a woman in a hijab), while the attacker is simply ignored.      

4. Alert the Police and Other Authorities When Appropriate
Speak up and contact the authorities if you witness an act of bigoted hostility or harassment, according to attorney and outspoken LGBTQ rights advocate Gina Scialabba, who regularly interacted with police while working as a deputy San Mateo district attorney.

If you witness (or are the victim of) a hate crime, be sure to take notes — assuming it’s safe and practical to do so — and report it immediately. After reporting it to your local police, you also can file a report with the SPLC, which tracks hate crimes across the country. The organization Muslim Advocates provides a state-by-state directory of FBI and attorney general contacts for reporting hate crimes, while the Human Rights Campaign (a prominent LGBTQ civil rights organization) offers a step-by-step guide for what to do if you’re the victim of a hate crime.

It’s important to keep in mind that hate speech is generally protected by the First Amendment, while not every act of bigotry is a “hate crime” in the technical sense. Regardless, reporting acts of bigotry can help the police and other authorities be more aware of what’s happening and potentially prevent the escalation of more serious acts.

5. Prepare in Advance
Hindsight is 20/20, but opportunities to nip a hateful act in the bud often come along when we least expect it. Lecia Brooks, Outreach Director for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), recommends preparing for these kinds of encounters in advance: “If a person has given careful consideration to how they’ll react,” she says, “they’re more likely to muster the courage to speak up. For example, someone who isn’t prepared may resort to a knee-jerk reaction (such as arguing with the attacker) that could escalate the situation instead of extinguishing it.

Brooks also suggests reviewing the SPLC publication “Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry” as well as their brand-new guide, “SPLC Campus Guide to Countering ‘Alt-Right.‘”

Alabama must expand its Community Corrections Program

If Alabama were considered a country, it would have the fifth-highest incarceration rate in the world, according to a 2016 study by the Prison Policy Initiative.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws, a lack of funding for noninstitutionalized care, and draconian drug laws have pushed Alabama past countries like Syria, Iran, and Cuba and cemented our position as a state of rampant servitude. Minorities have been disproportionately affected, with African-Americans being imprisoned at a rate three times greater than whites despite only being 26 percent of the state’s population. Additionally, Alabama’s prisons are operating at 173 percent capacity — overcrowding that resulted in the unnecessary deaths of several inmates and guards in the past few years.

The situation has developed into an economic and moral disaster. Change must be wrought, and quickly. One way to mitigate Alabama’s incarceration crisis is to invest in the Community Corrections Program (CCP), a program designed to rehabilitate and reconnect convicted adults and adjudicated juveniles, all the while holding them accountable in the community through supervision.

Last summer, I interned in Randolph County and met Rebecca Farmer, Randolph County’s director of CCP. Having never heard of CCP, I sat down with her to discuss the program and the change in criminal justice philosophy it represents — how it’s slowly transforming the dominant and largely ineffective criminal justice philosophy of “Tough on Crime” into the more morally sound “Smart on Crime.” CCP first came to Alabama in 1991. To be eligible for the program, the convicted person must be a nonviolent offender; many participants have been convicted of crimes like DUIs and minor drug offenses. Too often, people fall into drug abuse because of a lack of connection in their lives; a pillar of CCP is to help participants build a life that isn’t worth losing to drug addiction, to build connections in the community. To do this, the program helps participants by utilizing evidence-based programs that include helping participants earn a GED, helping them get a driver’s license, offering classes in financial literacy and more. Instead of expecting formerly incarcerated individuals to immediately become reconnected to their communities upon release, the program offers continued opportunities to reconnect throughout their sentence. Many inmates find themselves imprisoned because of a foundational lack of purpose. Tethering them to their communities is an excellent way to fill that void.

Along with giving participants a chance to reconstruct their lives, the program also opens up prison beds for violent and repeat offenders, and, in doing so, it saves taxpayers money. On average, the cost per inmate in CCP is only slightly more than $10 a day, which is significantly lower than the nearly $48 a day cost for offenders in an Alabama Department of Corrections facility.

Moreover, a meta-analysis that involved 53,614 subjects found that including treatment and rehabilitation in alternative sentencing reduces recidivism by 10 percent, which is an investment that benefits everyone.

I encourage all of you, whether your county doesn’t have a CCP like mine or if it already has one, to promote the program to your local leaders and state representatives. It’s one of the ways a college student can effect real, tangible change on the ground. Currently, only 21 counties in Alabama have an active CCP. But through grassroots organizing, college students can put the necessary pressure on their local and state governments to expand this vital program.

The economic reasons for investing in CCP beckon us. But even more important than smart economics, we need to invest in CCP because of the single, fundamental reason that we are morally obligated to do so.

This opinion piece was written by Weston H. Sims, a rising junior at Auburn University and Opinions Editor for The Auburn Plainsman.

Pride in Alabama: Looking Back

I am not the first to say that growing up gay in the South is often no easy task; even in Montgomery, a mid-size city and the capital of Alabama, conservative values and anti-LGBTQ bigotry seem to retain their persistent influence in the hearts and minds of many people in my local community.

Last month, I had the privilege of participating in this year’s Pride, a weekend-long event sponsored by Montgomery Pride United that featured a drag queen pageant, variety showcase, and silent auction, which culminated in a Pridefest on Sunday complete with a march, rally, and street festival. A full day of fun surrounded by transgender pride flags and endless rainbows, the clear sense of community I felt led me to reflect on past Pride events I’ve experienced growing up in Montgomery.

Montgomery’s celebration of Pride has been sporadic over the years, primarily due to leadership changes in local LGBTQ organizations, how active the community is in particular years, or other factors. Though the first known Pride event happened in 1998, it was 2005 before another event was organized. Since then, there have been several years where Pride has not been celebrated at all. My first Pride event was downtown behind beautiful Union Station in 2007, under the old train shed that then functioned as a parking lot. At 16, this Pride was one of my first encounters with the larger LGBTQ community.

A giant rainbow flag over fifteen feet tall served as a backdrop to Montgomery’s third annual Capital City Pride in 2007, where a stage was set up for performances and vendor booths represented a variety of local, state, and national organizations. Some organizations in attendance like PFLAG and ACLU have continued to be regular fixtures at Pride festivals for years, but at least one (the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network) seems to be far less prevalent in the years following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Looking back, I remember there being very little diversity, as most attendees I saw were white; in addition, gay and lesbian issues dominated the day just as they dominated the national conversation in a time when the bisexual and trans communities were not as visible.  In fact, the only thing that has not seemed to have changed in ten years is the weather— just as it was this year, the humidity of Alabama summer meant that the shade provided only a little relief from the heat.

In the last ten years, the LGBTQ community in the United States has undergone some very clear changes as society has generally become more accepting. Even in Alabama, more people are coming out and at younger ages. The community still faces hate crimes, youth homelessness, and discrimination, as well as struggles like racism, transphobia, and division; still, people representing a wide spectrum of gender and sexual minorities seem to be gaining more of a voice, beyond just gay men and lesbians. To me, that was the biggest difference between 2007 and 2017: diversity in community. Nowhere was that realization more evident than at the end of this year’s Pride march, where people of a multitude of races, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities stood in a large circle in front of the Alabama State Capitol. In that moment and in the midst of a state and political climate that is still trying to oppress queer people, we sang together that no, “we shall not be moved.”

—Daniel C. Davis, SPLC on Campus Coordinator

SPLC on Campus gets a chance for outreach at SSA Con 2017

SSA Con attendees pose for their annual staircase photo

SSA Con attendees pose for their annual staircase photo

Two weeks ago, SPLC on Campus joined several other organizations by sponsoring the 2017 Conference held by the Secular Student Alliance. A progressive organization for student leaders and activists, the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) shares many of the same goals for social justice as we do, while at the same time they provide a space for like-minded students to come together in community.

According to Nick Stancato, manager of the SSA’s Campus Organizing team, close to 200 individuals attended SSA Con, coming together with newfound energy in the wake of the current political climate. Though we were not able to attend the conference in person, it was said that many attendees appreciated the SPLC on Campus table, where we offered buttons, wristbands, and other materials. Nick also mentioned how many view the Southern Poverty Law Center as a natural ally, along with other organizations present such as Planned Parenthood, URGE (Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity), and the American Humanist Association, among others.

We wish the folks at the Secular Student Alliance well in the upcoming school year, as they continue to provide community and fight for social justice on campus.

How a Teenage Asylum Seeker from South Africa Became a Social Justice Advocate in Maine

At first, members of the Southern Maine Community College chapter of SPLC on Campus were worried they had ordered too much food.

The group was hosting one of its first major events, a screening of Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated film 13th. The 2016 documentary, which argues that slavery continues in America through the mass incarceration of African Americans, was not exactly light viewing. But by the time the film began, some 30 people had gathered to watch it. Surplus pizza, it turned out, was not going to be an issue.

After the screening, SPLC on Campus members led a discussion. The conversation was intense, said the group’s founder, Dorcas Ngaliema — but it showed that the SPLC group was a necessary addition to the seaside campus of 6,000 students.

“People talked about a lot of things they didn’t know,” Ngaliema said. “People were kind of shocked … it was uncomfortable to see that African Americans were being systematically targeted.”

When it comes to social justice, shock is a step in the right direction, Ngaliema said. “I really advocate for people being uncomfortable because that’s the only way we can learn.”

As an asylum-seeker, Ngaliema knows a lot about discomfort.

Two and a half years ago, when she was 17, Ngaliema thought her family was leaving their home in Cape Town, South Africa, for a vacation. But two weeks before the trip, her parents broke the news to her and her younger sister: the family wasn’t taking a vacation. They were relocating to Portland, Maine.

This wasn’t the first time the family had emigrated. When Ngaliema was just nine months old, her parents fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo to escape civil war. This time, concerned about a rise in xenophobic attacks across South Africa, her parents decided it was time to move farther away.

“A lot of people didn’t feel safe anymore,” Ngaliema said. In addition to her parents’ concerns about safety, they also wanted their daughters to have access to better education.

The move to America changed everything.   

“It was really hard,” Ngaliema, now 19, said of the move. “I came from a very comfortable life back home — a lot more comfortable than being here. My parents had to start over again.”

When the family first arrived, the shelter they’d planned to stay at didn’t have room for them, so they had to stay in a hotel until they found an apartment a few months later. In South Africa, Ngaliema’s father had worked for Shell Oil Company, and her mother ran a daycare center. Now, to make ends meet, he works multiple jobs in the social services field, while she works as a hotel housekeeper.

Despite the challenges of building a life in a new country, Ngaliema believes she has had an easier immigrant experience than many of her classmates at Portland High School, a hub of diversity in a mostly white state, where students hail from more than 40 countries. She considers herself lucky because she arrived in the United States already speaking English, which meant she could enroll in mainstream classes.

Still, the experience of moving to a new country sparked a keen interest in social justice.

“When I was in South Africa, all my problems were my problems and I thought the world revolved around me,” she said. “When I moved, I realized the world was really small… I learned more about American history, about racism.”  

Ngaliema’s move to Maine also occurred shortly after the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. She followed the story via social media, and America’s struggle with racism began coming into focus. “I took it upon myself to educate myself about the injustices happening in this country,” she said. She went on to lead the civil rights club at her high school during her senior year.

After graduating from high school, Ngaliema began attending Southern Maine Community College. A political science major, she brought her passion for social justice with her. So when she heard a professor speak about the Southern Poverty Law Center, it seemed like a natural fit.

“We needed a space, especially in this climate, where we could have conversations and listen, even if it was uncomfortable,” she said, adding that relating face-to-face is especially important in an era when many people express their opinions from the safety of their computers or mobile devices. “All you have online is capital letters and exclamations… It’s just not good for anybody. In person I can see [people’s] body language, hear their tone.”

The value of face-to-face dialogue was evident in the discussion of 13th. Some attendees had initially resisted the film’s premise but gradually came to see others’ points of view. And some gained a greater understanding of the issue’s complexity. While the audience may not have come to a consensus, thanks to Ngaliema and her SPLC on Campus group, they all emerged with their minds open a little wider.

Note: This article was written by Lynn Shattuck and produced by 500 Pens: An Anti-Hate News Project in partnership with the SPLC.

KKK set to rally in Charlottesville, VA, this weekend

A Ku Klux Klan rally is set to take place at Justice Park in Charlottesville, VA, this coming Saturday. The Loyal White Knights, a Klan group based in North Carolina, plans to protest the city’s decision to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In an effort to show both disapproval of the event and a sense of unity and strength in the community, there have been numerous alternative events scheduled. This method of non-engagement with the KKK demonstration directly allows the community to present a unified objection and proclamation of the value of such unity in diversity. The majority of protesters have often been shown to have good motives and peaceful intent, but the risk for escalation in circumstances like these is high. The Loyal White Knights and other like-minded groups feed off of the chaos caused by the collision of differing views, especially when protests become violent. Though peaceful protest is of course possible, the clearest way to oppose extremists is to divert attention away from them and their hateful message and onto the positive and inclusive environments created in its place. A message of community solidarity is then amplified by the empty streets surrounding them and the sound of their rhetoric being ignored. That is how you get their attention, that is how you make them listen, and that is how you tell them you don’t want them in your community.

Here is a complete list of alternative events in and around Charlottesville:

  • The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center and Jefferson School City Center will host a “Unity Day” (9:00am to 12:30pm) with coffee, outdoor meditation, and community discussions throughout the morning. Details are located on the Facebook event page here.

  • The IX Art Park is hosting The People’s Picnic: Coming Together for Community. Food trucks, music and community art exhibitions from 11:30am to 1:30pm. Check the Facebook event page here.

  • Unity C’ville will be a concert held at the Sprint Pavilion from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. And continued in the evening— “Grits & Gravy Dance Party” at The Jefferson Theater.
    Unity C’ville website has a listing of the day’s event.

  • The Charlottesville Clergy Collective includes about 50 congregations from the area. On July 8, CCC will be at First United Methodist Church with a Hospitality Safe Space from 1:00pm to 5:00pm. Safe space, prayer and music. They also plan to maintain a presence in Justice Park before and after the KKK rally. Their website discusses a number of actions past and upcoming.

  • Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP is hosting a rally from 2:00pm to 5:00pm at Jack Jouett Middle School (210 Lambs Lane) to take a stand for justice, equality, and civil rights in the community.

In Portland publication, Outreach Director Lecia Brooks explains how emboldened white supremacists often "hide in plain sight"

Lecia Brooks, our Director of Outreach here at the Southern Poverty Law Center, recently spoke with Jared Paben of Street Roots about the uptick in hate and bias incidents, inflammatory rhetoric, and emboldened racists in the past year, especially since the election. Though the interview covers a multitude of issues. the particular focus is on the Portland train attack that happened last month, when a man named Jeremy Joseph Christian stabbed three people (two fatally) who stood up to him while he was harassing two teenage girls with anti-Muslim and racist slurs. When asked about how one reconciles the image of Portland as a "tolerant, liberal bulwark against the rising tide of hate" and the reality of a large prevalence of local hate crimes since the election, Lecia responded:

Portland has made great strides in moving toward a more progressive side. I think that, generationally, you do have a large majority of progressive liberals in the area who are definitely against hate and bias. But, as I mentioned, the history goes pretty deep.... A number of adherents of the ideology moved from the South to the Pacific Northwest. As you know, the Pacific Northwest is very mono-racial. Portland is 70 percent white population. So what you find in those instances is that, oftentimes, white supremacists can hide in plain sight.

She then goes on to discuss free speech issues, the impact of hateful rhetoric and shifting demographics on incidents like these, and the work of the SPLC. The interview ends with a final exhortation, as Lecia calls on people to stand together:

We certainly don’t want to encourage people to get in harm’s way, but we also do want people to stand up against hate. And if we do it together, united, we have a great chance of pushing back. We have to push back. We cannot allow hateful violence and rhetoric to become normalized. We need to marginalize people who are espousing these beliefs and not give them any credence.

Street Roots is a weekly publication based in Portland, OR, and the full article and interview can be found here.

Opportunity to participate in new documentary series

A new documentary produced by Pulse Films is looking to engage family members estranged for reasons of politics or issues related to recent culture wars in the United States. The goal is to rebuild broken bonds using top clinical psychologists and social experiments. With the divide in our country growing, the hope is that bringing families back together will create a momentum of change and acceptance. If you would like an opportunity to participate and tell your story in hopes of mending broken relationships, please submit an application here. Following the documentary, the participants will have access to an aftercare program designed to offer further support.

White nationalists are targeting college campuses, and these students are fighting back

In January, the night before alt-right figure Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at the University of California, Berkeley, two members of the white supremacist group American Renaissance got in a fistfight with other young men after they were caught plastering trees and buildings around campus with posters that proclaimed, “Embrace white identity!”  

In February, a spoofed faculty email address sent hundreds of University of Michigan students messages that threatened black and Jewish people, using the phrase “Heil Trump.” The emails, which the FBI is investigating, followed the appearance of racist flyers around campus the previous fall.

In the months after the election, as a wave of hate speech and harassment swept the nation, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recorded more than 150 reports of white nationalist fliers and recruitment materials on college campuses. Intended to frighten minority students as well as to persuade whites to join their causes, these orchestrated campaigns reveal that white nationalists see colleges as an important battleground in their war on a diverse and tolerant United States.

“White nationalists really enjoy campus activism,” says SPLC analyst Keegan Hankes. “They’re often trying to put an intellectual veneer on things, so it makes sense to peddle that on a college campus where you’re dealing with people who may be just starting to form their ideas about the world.”

It wouldn’t be the first time that college students found themselves on the front lines in a fight over civil rights. During the 1960s, it was often students who rode buses through the Deep South for Freedom Rides, staged lunch counter sit-ins, marched against Jim Crow laws and integrated recalcitrant universities. And while today’s white supremacists believe young people are especially receptive to their ideology, many students are, instead, leading the resistance against hate as part of a new Southern Poverty Law Center program called SPLC on Campus.

“We were first inspired to create the program while witnessing a resurgence in student activism on college campuses a few years ago,” explains Lecia Brooks, SPLC’s Director of Outreach. “The Black Lives Matter movement, the effort to address sexual assault and the push by students from marginalized groups for safe and inclusive campuses — all this work sparked something that SPLC wanted to support.”

Since 2015, students on nearly 30 campuses in the South and across the country have started their own SPLC on Campus groups. Among them is P.J. Price, a senior at Clemson University in South Carolina, who founded a chapter on his campus in August 2016. With the presidential campaigns at full tilt, the new group spent the fall semester holding voter registration drives, co-sponsoring a political debate and building coalitions with other progressives on campus. But they discovered a new sense of urgency when white supremacist fliers began appearing around campus shortly before the election.

"Some people, when they think of the KKK and white supremacists, think of their history class, but this is something that is still thriving in many areas of our country, including near Clemson,” Price says. “That’s something that we’ve become increasingly cognizant of since the election.”

In the months since Inauguration Day, Price says, hundreds of Clemson students have turned out for events organized or co-organized by SPLC on Campus, including a demonstration against the so-called “Muslim Ban” in January and a rally for a student who had been unable to enter the United States because of it. While hate groups may be newly emboldened, Price and his classmates realized that those who support civil rights and equity are also newly determined to fight.

“People are rightfully indignant about things,” he says, “and they come to SPLC events to talk about them and express concern about them and say, ‘How can I get more involved?’”

At the University of Kentucky (UK), graduate student Leslie Davis was also looking for a way to get involved. After the election, she became alarmed by the nationwide rise in hate crimes and harassment — a trend reflected in a February SPLC report that found the number of hate groups in the United States was up for a second straight year in 2016. “I felt similarly to a lot of people in feeling really lost and wanting to do something drastic,” she says. “Once I was able to take a breath, I decided I should find something particular to my campus and try to make a difference through the community that I’m already a part of.”

Davis decided to create an SPLC on Campus chapter, which officially opened in March with about 30 members, after completing the university approval process. Davis hopes to partner with longstanding UK institutions like the Office of LGBTQ* Resources and the Martin Luther King Center, but she also sees her group as a nimbler, more independent organization that can react immediately to bias incidents and create counterprogramming to address hate and intolerance if it arises. “As a group that’s run by students, I feel like we can be a bit more aggressive in our messaging,” she says.

While many SPLC on Campus groups are contending with the post-election atmosphere, others have taken on more entrenched injustices.

“I’ve always been a big fan of SPLC,” says University of Alabama (UA) senior Joshua Hillman, who has served as president of his SPLC on Campus chapter for a year. This school year, the focus for Hillman and his SPLC Chapter was on building names — he says that at least a dozen buildings on campus are tributes to historical figures with ties to segregation, the Confederacy or racist ideology. For instance, Nott Hall, named for physician Josiah Nott.

“Nott was one of the most virulent polygenists of the1800s,” Hillman says. “He wrote an infamous work on the races being different species, yet you can’t find that information unless you’re looking for it. Just getting markers up by these buildings saying, this is what they were named for, this is what they were famous for and this is what we’re remembering them for — that’s really all we want.”

Hillman says he wanted to renew the conversation about how to address these names because addressing the past will have an impact on the future. He and other SPLC members figured starting a conversation among diverse groups could potentially lead to action down the road, so they brought together student groups and faculty members.

“We really wanted to focus on bringing in students from communities that don’t normally talk about race,” Hillman says.

Despite growing enthusiasm for changing building names, progress has been slow. Hillman and fellow students are now seeking to put up markers that they say will at least make students and campus visitors aware of the back stories to these building names.

The work may be frustrating at times, but it is in keeping with SPLC’s mission to — as Lecia Brooks puts it — “encourage and support student activism in the tradition of the non-violent civil rights movement.” The hard work of that era carries a lesson for today’s activists: that creating lasting change is never immediate, and fighting injustice seldom easy.

“Over the last few years, students have changed some systems on some campuses,” Brooks says. “It will be more difficult now. Battling white nationalism both helps and hurts the cause. But I’m ever hopeful.”

Note: This article was written by Amy Crawford and produced by 500 Pens: An Anti-Hate News Project in partnership with the SPLC.