LEWISTON — Signs popped up around the Bates College campus Sunday reading “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE,” a slogan devised almost two decades ago by neo-Nazis.

For some people, such signs are a trolling operation designed to stir up racial fears with a seemingly bland assertion.

The slogans have been posted at a number of colleges and universities over the years, with some people reacting with disgust and others dismissing the signs as harmless.

Walter Washington, student president at Bates, initially reported an 8½-by-11-inch sign to the Lewiston Police Department and Bates’ security director at about 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Washington said he received a telephone call from another student Sunday morning alerting him to a sign posted on a utility pole near the campus bookstore.

Lewiston police said they had a couple of reports questioning the signs, which officers removed Sunday afternoon because they were attached to utility poles, which the law prohibits.

“The sign itself is ‘dog whistle’ stuff. It’s an old, white supremacist slogan, so it’s not as jarring as something else,” Washington said. “The thing the cop said to me is it’s not a crime because of the language, it’s a crime because of the city ordinance.”

The exact number of signs that were put up was not known late Sunday. One officer said somebody was putting them up as fast as police could take them down. Washington, however, said he knew of only one sign.

“It was around 12:30 that they (police) called me back, and I’m not sure if anything has happened since then,” Washington said late Sunday.

Sean T. Findlen, chief communications officer for Bates College, wrote in an email Sunday that Bates was working with the Lewiston Police Department to investigate the signs.

“We condemn any attempt to incite hatred and bigotry based on race, as contrary to Bates’ most deeply held values,” Findlen wrote.

Some professors and students at Bates said the signs were intimidating, especially in the wake of a massacre Friday of Muslims by a white supremacist in New Zealand.

Washington said he had spoken to the entire student government about the signs, and the signs were met with universal disgust. He said it was disappointing to see the signs in Bates’ diverse community.

“As a person of color, it’s straight-up disheartening and disappointing in 2019 that’s what someone has to wake up to,” Washington said.

“It’s indicative of where we are and how far we have to go as a society. As far as our campus is concerned, it’s deplorable, disgusting and intolerable, and it has no place in or around this campus.”

Comments are disabled on some stories about sensitive topics.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.