Webster University has a long history of supporting and advancing social justice issues. Still, as the spring 2022 semester began, students couldn’t help but notice that the Black Lives Matter banner outside Sverdrup Building wasn’t there. In addition, some students were curious why Webster’s banner was replaced with a different one.
Throughout the nation, tension is rising over the removal of BLM signs from school properties. Westfield High in Indiana and Newberg High in Oregon banned BLM signs from school premises as of August 2021. The signs were deemed as being political messages.
Webster’s students and volunteers were left wondering if the institute had taken down their sign.
“It’s such a shame that the Black Lives Matter banner was removed. I thought Webster University wouldn’t be like everyone else that’s jumping on the bandwagon but stayed true to supporting the movement,” freshman Brady Stiff said.
Stiff and his friend were walking outside Sverdrup Building when they made the discovery.
A volunteer from the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Jane Smith, who requested her name not be used, noticed that the banner wasn’t there while visiting the college for her routine ministry groups with the African American students.
“I’m wearing this shirt today. It says ’Black Lives Matter Imago Dei’, which means ‘made in the image of God.’ We got these shirts made last year, but I think the phrase itself shouldn’t be controversial at all,” Smith said, “and it’s really a shame that the signs have been taken down in Webster Groves.”
Smith said she went on to inquire with the university’s staff members about the sign during a daily prayer walk with her roommate.
However, Webster University maintains it has a progressive reputation.
“Webster University issued a statement in writing to the community declaring that Black Lives Matter before installing the banner after the tragic death of George Floyd,” Patrick Giblin, director of public relations.
According to Giblin, the university stands in solidarity with the movement and continues to show its support, despite the banner being removed from view on Big Bend Road.
Vincent Flewellen is the Chief Diversity Officer at Webster University. He said the Black Lives Matter banner is still up on campus.
“We were the first university in the area, as a matter of fact, probably in the country to actually install a Black Lives Matter sign,” Flewellen said. “We put our first sign up on June 7, 2020, in front of the Luhr Building.”
Shortly after the Black Lives Matter banner was installed, Flewellen received a call saying that the sign was stolen.
A Webster University public safety officer discovered the Black Lives Matter banner was gone at 11 p.m. on June 11, 2020. The incident went public and made news headlines. In addition, several residential homes, churches and businesses had signs vanish the same night. After the incident, Webster established a new banner.
“Once we found out the bandit also stole other residents’ signs, we decided to order a replacement sign for the Luhr building and a backup sign just in case someone tried to steal that one, which we chose to place that sign in front of the Sverdrup building,” Flewellen said.
On July 9, 2021, a massive storm ripped through the neighborhood, knocking down Webster University’s enormous, historical tree and blowing away Luhr Building’s BLM banner. The university decided to replace the missing sign with the one from the Sverdrup building.
“The university is not stepping away from its stands and commitment to Black Lives Matter,” Flewellen said.