“You can’t let them be consuming”: Hate Symbols at U-32

Every day, students walk into the U-32 cafeteria’s men’s bathroom, take advantage of the facilities, wash their hands, and leave. Few students notice the large “1488” etched into one of the black stall doors, and even fewer understand its reference to the writings of the white supremacist and terrorist, David Lane.

The “14” represents Lane’s 14 Words: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The 88 represents either his 88 Precepts essay, or Heil Hitler as “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet, so “88” is “HH”. For those who do know these meanings, the number is a message of hatred and exclusion.

Hate symbols have become common at U-32. Some students might not be affected by them, but for others, they represent a community that doesn’t respect them and a reminder of past and present wrongs.

Tegan Lapan, a sophomore and student of color, has been dealing with hate symbols all her life. An especially memorable moment was in her elementary school, Waits River Valley, when students drew Nazi symbols and KKK symbols and slipped them into her locker.

They didn’t stop there. They drew the same symbols on their hands and pretend to ward off Tegan like she was a demon. Tegan said that some people might be surprised by her story, but hate symbols are more common than people think.

Now at U-32, she still experiences hate symbols. She sees them in the halls and remembers seeing students clustered around one, laughing. “You can’t let them be consuming,” Tegan said, “because they’re everywhere.”

All across the country, hate has been rising. According to FBI statistics, from 2016 to 2017, hate crime reports increased by 17%. This follows a trend of hate crimes rising over the two years before 2017.

To Devante Lee, a junior and student of color at U-32, the hate symbol he has experienced most in Vermont is the Confederate flag. Devante said that he realizes that some people use it as a sign of southern pride, but he sees it as a hate symbol. Students have the flag on bumper stickers, hats, shirts, and as Chromebook backgrounds.

One of Devante’s most memorable moments with the Confederate flag was when the Black Lives Matter flag was raised. The day of the raising, students stood outside the school with Confederate flags. One kid even flew the flag from their bus.

“What would you do if you had a student of color on that bus,” Devante said, “having to sit there, feeling terrified because there’s a Confederate flag hanging off their bus, while they’re surrounded by just white kids.”

David Hannigan, the head of Buildings and Grounds at U-32, reported that the custodians find hate symbols in spurts. The last time David worked as a custodian, he estimated they found fewer than 20 hate symbols in a year.

David said the most common hate symbol the custodians find is a swastika. They find them in hallways and stairways, but most often in the men’s bathrooms. When they find a hate symbol they take a picture of it, send it to the administration, and clean it up. David said cleaning it is really all they can do: “Hopefully they’ll move on or smarten up.”