A first-year Ph.D. student in the Chemistry Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has agreed to leave his teaching assistant position after it was revealed that he was responsible for a monthlong series of racist incidents at Oberlin College in 2013.
According to an Oberlin Police Department report, Dylan Bleier and another student allegedly admitted to posting dozens of racist, homophobic, anti-Islamic and anti-semitic flyers as well as a few incidents of Nazi-style graffiti. After being caught posting anti-Islam posters in the college’s Science Center, Bleier told police he intended the postings as a “joke/troll … to get an overreaction.”
No charges were ever filed in the case. Bleier left Oberlin after the incidents, but internet archive records show that he continued to post anti-semitic and racist sentiments on social media as recently as 2015. He apparently later deleted the accounts.
“I am not now and have never been a member of any white supremacist group,” Bleier said in an email to Madison365. “I do not hold and have never held any white supremacist or racist or homophobic views. I have Jewish heritage and despise neo-Nazis. I believe in racial equality and have been an active member of White Allies Against Structural Racism and a supporter of other groups also advocating for an end to racism.”
He did not respond to further questions.
The police report was unearthed by UW Director of Debate C.V. Vitolo-Haddad, who had been approached by a student regarding Bleier’s behavior in the classroom.
“I was contacted by a student who had just kind of I think had like a couple weird or uncomfortable interactions,” Vitolo-Haddad said. “I don’t know, it seemed like it was more of a vibe. I sort of just started thinking, I guess I’ll see what I can find.”
Vitolo-Hadad outlined Bleier’s history in a Medium.com post over the weekend, including screen captures of virulently racist tweets and blog posts dug up thanks to the Internet Wayback Machine.
In response, UW administration issued a statement Monday that read, “UW-Madison is aware of past statements on social media attributed to a teaching assistant that run counter to our university values of inclusivity, respect, and non-violence. Based on a mutual desire to avoid disruption of these course sections, the sections will be handled by other instructors, effective immediately. Students who have any concerns about the class may reach out to the course instructor. Like all members of the public, our students, faculty and staff hold a wide range of personal and political beliefs. We believe these views can and should be exercised outside of the classroom without impinging on the learning environment.”
UW spokesperson Meredith McGlone said the university was unaware of the allegations against Bleier when he was admitted. He still has a job within the chemistry department as a non-instructional teaching assistant, McGlone said.
“I’m certainly glad he’s not teaching anymore, but I wouldn’t say satisfied,” Vitolo-Haddad said. “We have an uptick in hate crime in our nation generally. I don’t think it’s difficult to understand that. These are the kind of people who we need to keep an eye on because if we don’t act until it’s too late, when we know these people are in our community, the more we can ourselves very vulnerable, in my opinion. He already had to leave one college. And so I don’t think expelling him, that clearly really doesn’t do anything. But I do think that we’ve had this conversation a million times now around various (violent incidents), around (Las) Vegas, around Pulse (Nightclub), around all sorts of hate crimes where it’s like, ‘we need better mental health services.’ Well, we’re a large institution with that power. I mean, at what point is someone going to step in and say, ‘Hey, we should get this person some help. We shouldn’t ostracize them. We need to make sure that they feel like they’re part of the community so that they don’t feel compelled to be violent.’ We do definitely need to do something about their presence and make sure that you know someone is checking in and making sure that that’s not the likelihood of any kind.”