The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is facing backlash after it allowed a graduate student who is a member of a white supremacist group to return to class.
Michael B. Williams, a teaching assistant instructing microbiology lab courses, was outed as a member of the white supremacist group Identity Evropa. Williams’ curriculum vitae notes that he is a “Native Born Citizen of the United States of America” and highlights his “European ancestry.” The CV and more than 1,000 posts on the gaming chat app Discord became public last month, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Williams said that the university pulled him from the classroom for two weeks while it conducted an investigation into possible criminal acts or violations of its code of conduct. He was later cleared and allowed to resume teaching.
The grad student, who denied being a white supremacist, admitted to The Chronicle that he was a member of Identity Evropa for more than a year before leaving to focus on his life. Williams maintained that he did not allow his personal beliefs to affect how he treated his students.
“I have not had a single biased complaint in almost seven years as a TA,” he said, “and work to minimize any bias via de-identification of student work.”
Despite claiming he is not a white supremacist, Williams told The Chronicle that he believes that white Americans need to be vocal about issues that affect them — which Williams terms “racial consciousness.” Williams reportedly boasted in one of the more than 1,000 online posts that he was being followed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke on Twitter.
“I love the students that I teach,” Williams said. “And I don’t blame any of them for issues that we have as a cultural clash between our groups. I don’t fear or hate anyone.”
The University of Alabama at Birmingham did not immediately respond to The North Star’s questions regarding the controversy about Williams’ views. However, in an email to students, the university said it was against hate.
“You may be aware of posters being distributed on the UAB campus and via social media that show the picture of a student and his alleged affiliation with a group that is considered alt-right. We want to assure you that as an institution, UAB is against hate in all forms,” the email said.
On April 17, students protested UAB’s response to Williams’ purported Identity Evropa membership and the white supremacist group’s attempts to recruit on campus. “No hate, no fear, Nazis, you’re not welcome here!” students at the rally chanted.
Arianna Villanueva, one of the student organizers of the protest, told AL.com that the rally aimed to “unite the student body against white terrorism.”
“He’s not the only one, so we can’t sit here and say this student is the issue,” Villanueva told The Chronicle. “The acceptance of this ideology is the issue, the lack of condemnation is the issue.”
Fellow rally organizer Hanh Huynh said she was surprised to learn there were white supremacists on campus. “Around UAB, there’s so much diversity and inclusion… it was kind of like a wake up call,” Huynh said.
In an interview with AL.com, UAB Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Dr. Paulette Dilworth noted that the university is one of 14 colleges and universities in the US named as a Diversity Champion by the publication INSIGHT Into Diversity. The school proudly displays the distinction on the main page of its website.
Identity Evropa was among the white supremacist groups that participated in the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which left one dead and scores injured. The group, which rebranded as the American Identity Movement in March, promotes the preservation of “white American culture,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.