Vulgar signs displayed over Homecoming weekend raise concern across community

Photos of the sexist banners made rounds on social media Sept. 30



An Eau Claire community member posted this photo of the signs late Saturday night on Facebook.

Vulgar banners put up during Homecoming weekend sparked controversy on social media among community members and later caught the attention of both campus and city officials.

An off-campus residence on Second Avenue put up two crude banners over the weekend of Sept. 30. One banner read “Only girls take knees at our house,” and the other “The flag isn’t the only thing that makes us stand at attention. #SAFTB (Saturdays are for the boys).”  

The signs faced backlash on social media as a Facebook post made its rounds Sept. 30.

While the law cannot prohibit free speech per the First Amendment, signs must comply with city ordinances, Eau Claire City Attorney Stephen Nick said.

However, Nick said the city typically regulates the size or placement of a sign rather than the content. Unless the sign’s content is obscene, the city doesn’t have explicit regulations against it, Nick said, and it’s hard to determine where the dividing line is when it comes to obscenity.

“I’m not sure this would pass the threshold of obscenity,” Nick said. “The key restriction is the First Amendment: It protects speech we may agree with and speech we may find troubling.”  

Since the sign was put up on a house unaffiliated with UW-Eau Claire, the situation doesn’t fall under the university’s jurisdiction, according to a university-wide email sent by UW-Eau Claire Dean of Students Joe Abhold.

“There is often a call for ‘the institution’ or ‘the administration’ to take action against those who use such hateful speech,” Dean Abhold wrote. “When we are legally able, we will absolutely do so. However, in some cases … as a public university we cannot regulate such speech beyond what the courts and constitution allow.”

Abhold went on to write all students deserve respect on campus and in the community, regardless of their backgrounds and identities.

“If students feel disrespected, they do not feel welcome, and that negativity detracts from their ability to learn and grow as individuals and as Blugolds,” he wrote. “It is our expectation that all Blugolds treat one another with respect and dignity. We must all commit ourselves to working together to achieve an inclusive community.”

City Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle commented on the Facebook post to inform the public she filed a report with the Eau Claire Police Department regarding the signs.

“I am personally deeply offended,” Emmanuelle wrote, “this is not appropriate to say or do in any circumstance in my books.”

She updated her comments as police responded to her report. She said Dean Abhold called her while he was on a ride along with the Eau Claire Police to tell her they visited the house to find the signs were taken down.

According to her comment, “many people” had contacted the residents about their distaste for the signs, which ultimately led to them taking them down.

The councilwoman said the community needs to be aware of how messages such as these impact the community as a whole. She is upset events such as these continue to take place, she said.

“These signs impact real people in my community,” Emmanuelle said. “These type of sexist and inappropriate signs are hurtful and offensive.”

Aubrie Peterson, a junior social work student at UW-Eau Claire, spoke out against rape culture in the comments section on a different Facebook post from the university’s “Class of 2019” Facebook page. She said she was “pretty disgusted” with the signs.

“The language alludes to things like that (rape culture) are okay,” Peterson said. “And also that language makes actual rapists and sexual assaulters think ‘Oh, it’s okay. These men think it’s funny.’ So then it just helps decrease the sensitivity and almost just normalize it.”

Peterson said she makes a point to speak out against sexist language when she hears it, because she thinks it’s important to educate people in a “non-call-out way.”

While the vast majority of the comments were against the rhetoric used, there were few students in favor of the students’ words, some people even making fun of those who were offended by the signs.

There were other Facebook users within the Eau Claire community who were upset with the signs several of whom were saddened by the comments in favor of the signs.

“I don’t see anything funny about bashing a way to protest a cause and women along with it,” one community member wrote, “that is a problem in this country. If your (sic) not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”