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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Chemistry TA relieved from teaching duties amid allegations of white supremacy

UW-Madison has relieved a graduate student from his teaching duties after a blog post, which claimed he was expelled from Oberlin College for racist messaging and currently belongs to a white supremacist group, went viral. The student, Dylan Bleier, denied the allegations.

Bleier will no longer serve as a TA for Chemistry 109, effective immediately, according to UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone. Bleier and the university came to an agreement that he would no longer teach in order to avoid classroom disruption, she said.

McGlone said that social media posts that have been attributed to Bleier “run counter to our university values of inclusivity, respect, and non-violence.”

Bleier left Oberlin College after he and a fellow student allegedly vandalized campus and area buildings with anti-Semitic and racist messages and distributed anti-Islam flyers in 2013. The vandalism spree made national news, with many sources calling the incident a “hoax” because he supposedly identified as a liberal and had volunteered for Barack Obama’s campaign.

At the time, Bleier told police he committed the acts “as a joke to see the college overreact to it,” according to a police report.

The recent blog post, written by UW-Madison graduate student CV Vitolo-Haddad, included a number of tweets and Facebook posts that appear to belong to Bleier. Some of them call for violence against certain groups, while others include offensive stereotypes.

“1488 gas the kikes race war now,” one tweet reads. “Kill anyone who wants to censor speech,” says another.

A Facebook page that appears to belong to Bleier is a member of the Madison chapter of the self-proclaimed "Western chauvinist" organization Proud Boys. The page, which contains numerous pictures of Bleier and identifies him as a Madison resident, previously had the Proud Boys logo as its cover photo, but most posts have now been made private.

When reached by The Daily Cardinal, Bleier denied many of the allegations against him.

“As can be confirmed with the Oberlin Registrar, I left Oberlin in good standing: any claim that I was expelled or charged with a crime is false,” Bleier said, while not explicitly stating whether he was involved in the hateful acts. “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.”

Bleier also said he has “never been a member of any white supremacist group.”

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“I do not hold and have never held any white supremacist or racist or homophobic views,” Bleier said. “I have Jewish heritage and despise neo-Nazis.”

Despite Bleier’s denial of the allegations against him, McGlone said the university made the decision to relieve Bleier of his teaching duties “based on a mutual desire to avoid disruption of these course sections.” Bleier’s student status is not affected, she said.

McGlone added that “like all members of the public, our students, faculty and staff hold a wide range of personal and political beliefs” and that the university believes “these views can and should be exercised outside of the classroom without impinging on the learning environment.”

Judith Burstyn, chair of the chemistry department, sent an email to department faculty and staff that included the UW-Madison statement regarding "recent negative publicity regarding a chemistry TA." Burstyn received dozens of calls after a viral facebook post encouraged students to contact her about removing Bleier from his TA position.

Vitolo-Haddad, who wrote the original blog post that drew attention to Bleier’s history and social media presence, told The Daily Cardinal that even if Bleier says he is making hateful statements as a joke, it is not an excuse for his behavior.

“Dylan truly believes that tweets calling for race war and gassing Jewish people, or antisemitic memes and insults to Muslims- he believes that [he] is tweeting those things for the good of American society,” Vitolo-Haddad said. “He said as much himself in a tweet- offending people is, to Bleier, the only way to prevent a second Holocaust.”

Vitolo-Haddad said Bleier’s “excuse that he is joking around” and wants to offend people for the greater good of society is invalid because he “only says offensive and violent things to already marginalized populations.”

“I find it laughable that someone who ‘jokingly’ distributes threatening flyers calling people ‘F*****s’ and ‘N******’ or who tweets ‘1488 gas the k**** race war now’ would be seen as demonstrating the empathy required to be in a position of intellectual authority over diverse students,” Vitolo-Haddad said.

Bleier did not respond to additional questions about whether the offensive social media posts belong to him.

This post will be updated with additional information as it becomes available.

Nina Bertelsen contributed to this report.

UPDATE Oct. 9 at 6:40 p.m.: This post was updated to include additional information.

UPDATE Oct. 10 at 9:48 a.m.: This post was updated to remain consistent with AP Style guidelines about sensitive language.

UPDATE Oct. 10 at 5:02 p.m.: The Proud Boys organization asked not to be referred to as a white nationalist group. The Daily Cardinal has changed its description to "Western chauvinist," as they have referred to themselves on several occasions. 

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