The board chair of Lewis and Clark Community College near Alton, Illinois refused to resign over a series of Islamophobic, racist and anti-immigrant messages he posted online – after protestors and other trustees asked him to step down at the May 14 Board of Trustees meeting.
Some trustees tried to pass a motion to request that Heyen resign from the board because the board doesn’t have the authority to make him resign. The vote failed 4-3, with Heyen voting no.
A long line of people made public comments at the meeting, asking for his resignation. For the past week, St. Louis Alderman John Collins-Muhammad Jr. and advocates for the Muslim community have been are calling for the resignation of Heyen, who became the college’s board chairman on April 30. College administrators are still investigating Heyen’s posts, which they became aware of on May 1, a spokeswoman said. Images gathered by organizers confirmed that the account was Heyen’s personal Facebook page, and Heyen admitted that he shared the posts to KSDK.
“It’s ridiculous for someone who oversees the education of our communities to make comments or to share posts that blatantly disrespect Muslims and any other religion for that matter,” said Collins-Muhammad, who represents the 21st Ward in St. Louis city. “It cannot be tolerated.”
Heyen shared a post that refers to Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) as a “snake you are allowing in the country.”
Another post that Heyen shared decries the fact that the three Muslim members of Congress may have access to classified documents, and another promotes the false and Islamophobic claim that there is no terrorism in Iceland and Japan because there are no Muslims in those countries. Both Iceland and Japan have Muslim populations.
In other posts, “unvaccinated illegal alien kids in the public schools” are blamed for spreading diseases such as mumps, measles and smallpox, and the “Democratic Party” is accused of “shaming White people.”
In a statement to KSDK, Heyen said he shared the Facebook posts to “generate conversation” and claimed he was “relatively new to the concept of social media.”
“This now being used as a distraction by a small faction of people who are not happy that I have asked tough questions as a trustee and sought to hold the administration accountable and provide more transparency in the spending of our tax dollars,” Heyen stated to KSDK.
The college posted a statement on its website, stating that the college has a long history of providing an inclusive environment. “These comments and posts do not represent the culture of Lewis and Clark,” according to the college’s statement.
On May 14, the three trustees that voted “no” with Heyen – Julie Johnson, Kevin Rust and Charles Hanfelder – said that his posts didn’t reflect his “real” character and were outraged that people were trying to “destroy his character.”
“The way this situation has played out really scares me,” said Johnson, who is board vice chair. “It makes me wonder who will they try to silence next?”
Trustees Dwight Werts, Brenda Walker McCain and Robert Watson voted for his resignation. Werts said that Heyen’s statements did not reflect the values of the university, and in fact put the college’s accreditation status at risk. Student Trustee April Tulgetske also voted for his resignation, but her vote was not allowed to be counted, per college policy.
The Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Missouri), a chapter of the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, also called on Heyen to resign — or for the university to force his resignation.
“We urge Lewis & Clark Community College to thoroughly investigate this matter and ensure that the college remains a welcoming place for all of its students,” CAIR-Missouri Executive Director Faizan Syed said in a statement.
Umama Khenissi, a progressive Muslim organizer from St. Louis City, said the messages and visuals are damaging to all people throughout our entire metro area.
“They create an unsettling and unsafe environment for students and workers at LCCC,” Khenissi said, “and they foster a greater culture of hate and ‘othering.’”