Uproar Over Anti-Immigrant Memes

Despite calls to step down, the board president of a two-year college in Illinois is refusing to resign after posting several Islamophobic and anti-immigrant memes on social media.

May 17, 2019
 
Lewis and Clark Community College
David Heyen

David Heyen is facing calls for his resignation just one month into his two-year term as chairman of the governing board of Lewis and Clark Community College, which is located in Illinois.

Several recent social media posts featuring Islamophobic and anti-immigrant memes and comments under Heyen’s name surfaced last week. In one post, Heyen appeared to support a comment that blames the recent measles and mumps outbreak on undocumented immigrants. He appeared to back a statement calling Representative Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, who is Muslim, a “snake" in another post.

Heyen, who joined the board in 2017, was elected as its chairman last month. During a board meeting Tuesday, Heyen said he was “relatively new to the concept of social media” and shared some posts as a way to create a conversation on his personal Facebook page. Heyen refused to resign and a board vote to request that he remove himself failed, according to several news reports.

Administrators at Lewis and Clark were notified about the posts earlier this month. A statement from the college said Heyen's social media posts don't reflect the open-access and welcoming culture that exists at the two-year institution.

“The college is looking into this issue just as we would review any alleged conduct of a student, employee, board member, visitor or contractor,” the statement said. “These comments and posts do not represent the culture of Lewis and Clark.”

Hate speech remains an issue on college campuses. But relatively few incidents are reported, or at least become public, at community colleges. Only 9 percent of community colleges reported that an incident occurred on their campus in the last 24 months, according to the results of a survey on campus incidents by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Fund for Leadership, Equity, Access and Diversity, which is part of the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity.

Lewis and Clark doesn’t track how many immigrants or Muslim students it enrolls. But 23 of the roughly 15,000 students at the college are from other countries, Lois Artis, its vice president of administration, said in an email.

“The college continues to welcome immigrant and Muslim students, employees and visitors to its campus,” Artis said. “The Facebook posts of one individual will not change the welcoming and inclusive culture that has been built and sustained for the past 50 years on the campus of Lewis and Clark.”

During the Tuesday board meeting, faculty members, students and others called for Heyen to resign. (See below video.)

"The views expressed by Lewis and Clark board chair David Heyen are abhorrent to the Lewis and Clark Faculty Association," Mike Lemons, president of the faculty association, said in a statement. "Ours is a culture of respect and inclusivity, and we reject completely and without reservation any rhetoric which would make any of our students feel unwelcome. We serve a diverse community and population."

Lemons said faculty members believe Heyen is incapable of functioning as an effective leader and want him to resign not just as chairman but from the board.

"While he has every right to his opinion, such views are in direct conflict with our values as faculty," he said. "We repudiate them entirely."

Faizan Syed, executive director of the Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the organization was contacted by students and faculty members about Heyen's posts. CAIR-Missouri also has called for Heyen's resignation.

"Students and faculty are not just concerned about him targeting Muslims and his support for the Confederacy," Syed said. "Right now at Lewis and Clark, David Heyen and three other people recently elected have created a voting bloc that is more alarming than the posts."

During the Tuesday meeting, Heyen and the newly elected trustees appeared to alter board policies without discussion, Syed said, despite opposition and calls for more time to review the policies by three veteran trustees.

CAIR will continue to call for Heyen's resignation, he said, and will "actively work to continue this discussion at the next board meeting and raise awareness about what the board is doing."

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