At New York University (NYU), students have over 300 organizations to choose from: a women's frisbee team called The Violet Femmes, the Parliamentary Debate Union, or, if you happen to be an acrobat or a juggler, the Violet Circus Arts Club.
For many NYU students, cultural heritage and identity-based social issues occupy their extracurricular time. Violets, as NYU-ers are known, can join the South Asian Business Society, the Alliance of Latino and Latin American Students, or the Muslim Students Association, among many others.
But not a "White Student Union."
On Friday, however, a Facebook page by that name appeared online with NYU insignia (the logos have now been erased), setting off intense furor from both students who felt that the site's premise was racist, and supporters – not all of them students – who believe opposition to a White Union is racist itself, claiming that "double standards" about student expression are unfair.
According to the Union of White NYU Students Facebook page,
We unapologetically provide a safe space for white students to air their true feelings about the future of our nation, discuss and reflect on the lessons laid down for us by our great European writers, philosophers, and artists, and develop a positive program to restore the pioneering will and greatness of our unique and virtuous people.
The group says it does "not wish to denigrate or harm any other group or ethnicity." However, many questioned if that could co-exist with organizers' desire to "condemn the cowardly campaigns of moral subjugation and propaganda that seek to instill self-hatred and surrender within European-American youth and justify the continued invasion and degradation of the lands, institutions, and cultural heritage that is rightly ours."
NYU officials released a statement on the university's own Facebook page, informing the community that the group is not NYU-affiliated, and that the school encourages "all parties to contribute thoughtfully and respectfully to the discourse on race and to reject efforts to derail or distort the conversation."
But NYU, where white students make up the largest ethnic or racial group, at about 39 percent, is just one of more than 30 schools to see such sites emerge in the past few weeks. And one of the questions most often askedis, simply, if they're real – and whether the answer matters.
According to the College Fix, similar pages have sprung up everywhere from Stanford University to the University of Missouri, where protests and accusations of deep-seated bias recently led to the removal of system president Timothy Wolfe. The sites have inspired not just controversy, but fear, particularly at the University of Illinois, where Facebook users encouraged supporters to "send in pictures you take of any black protestors on the quad so we know who anti-whites are," according to Fox Illinois.
But many suspect that the pages' creators are not students. Some skeptics link the sudden flood of Facebook pages to a post on anonymous message-board site 4chan.
A recent 4chan post called for users to create "European"-focused groups at "the most leftist colleges and universities in the western world," as reported by the New York Daily News.
While the language of the original message suggests genuine opposition to campus diversity (opposing Jewish students, for instance), sites like 4chan are also notorious for their "trolling" culture: the art of creating anger and havoc online, just for laughs.
The Union of White NYU Students creator spoke online with the Tab, claiming to be an undergrad from New Jersey. As at many other schools, the representative claimed the group was real, not a web-fed fabrication, and said members meet at a coffee shop, since they assume they would be unwelcome on campus; he or she claimed to have received death threats.
The group complains that an emphasis on diversity has actually marginalized white students' perspectives, and uses language similar to that employed by Black Lives Matter protesters and other activists to describe the challenges faced by minority students.
"For those that would protest 'It's not like that,' or 'You just don't understand' we say that it is not up to you to define our identity or lived experience and these classes that define whiteness as inherently hateful by its very nature are in fact meant to silence and marginalize our people," the Union of White NYU Students page says.
Many Facebook comments argue that it is a double standard for schools to permit clubs like a Black Student Union, as NYU does, but not a White Student Union.
But the majority of commenters opposed the group, saying that an organization that labels the Middle Eastern migrant crisis "inherently genocidal" against Europeans must be a white-supremacist mouthpiece.
Many of the critics of the White Student Union say that what worries them most is the lack of understanding about why a Black Student Union, for instance, is different from a "White Student Union," echoing national debates about hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter versus #AllLivesMatter.
"America IS a white social club," Facebook user Jayda Jabberwock wrote, implying that there was no legitimate need to sponsor the group on campus.
"It is true that all lives matter, but it is equally true that not all lives are understood to matter, which is precisely why it is most important to name the lives that have not mattered," philosopher Judith Butler said in an interview with George Yancy of The New York Times.