When the school finds itself on the pages of a major publication, it is quickly shared among alums, current students and their proud parents. This could be seen with what the Washington Post had to say about alum Derek Black (‘10), a transfer student, the founder of a white nationalist website, Stormfront, and the son of one of the most prominent white nationalists in the Florida Region and a former Grand Wizard in the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
Black entered New College as a 21-year-old transfer student and graduated in Spring 2013. He studied Medieval Literature and his undergraduate thesis was on vampirism in the 18th century. Black became the subject of a forum thread that became one of the most commented threads in the school’s history. Upon graduation, Black recanted the beliefs of his father. Black was contacted a year prior by the Tangent for an interview on his experiences but declined, stating that he was not interested.
Several alums remember encounters with the figure.
“One time we were on a boat together literally like my second week of school and I had no idea who he was and he like wouldn’t talk so I felt uncomfortable and probably just got really wasted and was annoying because that’s who I am. Then after I got off the boat someone explained who he was and I was mad,” alum August “Gus” Tupper (‘11) said in an email interview. “I don’t feel like he went out that much but I saw him at a couple Walls and parties and it always made me vaguely uncomfortable, to be honest. Like no matter how reformed he was, I read some of the stuff he wrote on Stormfront and like whoa.”
The Washington Post piece recounted Black’s upbringing, including his time at New College, up to his recanting of his father’s beliefs. The article discussed the influence of alum Matthew Stevenson (‘10) who befriended Black and aided in the evolution of his ideology.
“I think the article fed into a narrative that a lot of people love, namely, this dude got ‘educated’ and suddenly realized his parents and David Duke were garbage monsters whose ideas were literally hateful, boring, and lazy,” Tupper continued. “But it took him a long time, and I’m sure he’s not any kind of angel now. […] I took most of what was said with a grain of salt. I feel bad for Derek because he was born into an unimaginably fucked up situation, but circumstances like that don’t make any of us less responsible for the violence of oppression, structural or otherwise, in which we, especially as white dudes, are all complicit.”
This sentiment is shared by other alums as well, who call into question the nature of Black’s denouncement after his graduation.
“The whole thing feels very performative and carefully planned to me,” alum and former Vice President of Student Life Taylor Toro (‘12), who attended New College while Black was a thesis student, said in an email interview. “When Derek Black first denounced his affiliation with the white nationalist movement, it was at a very convenient time for him to do so. He was going to move on to obtain yet another degree at another institution that allowed for the admission of a white nationalist. So his distancing from the movement felt a lot like a means to fit into the institution as opposed to an authentic and genuine denouncement.
“I guess we could give praise to folks that renounce harmful and violent ideologies. But that doesn’t erase what he did,” Toro continued. “To be clear: he made the white supremacist movement more palpable for folks that weren’t comfortable with the violent imagery and methods of the KKK and neonazis. He ushered in an era of white supremacy that was reinforced by pseudoscience and questionable stats. In my opinion, he and his father are partially responsible for the mass acceptance of white nationalist thought in the Republican Party. Stormfront not only pushed politics further to the right here in the US, but also beyond the US; stormfront served as the means to unify all white nationalists around the world. […] I’m also disturbed by folks that praise him as well. Like yeah, I guess good for him for thinking people of marginalized identities are just as deserving to live as he does.”