Tiki torches? On my campus?

I most certainly hope not.

As with all terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things, it started with a Facebook notification and an email: “Hey y’all, your favorite white supremacist is coming to town… and wants to speak at your university; woo hoo! Oh, and by the way, we (administration) neglected to tell you until public pressure forced our hand. Oops.”

Now, if we didn’t learn anything at all from what happened at the University of Virginia, perhaps I should remind you that it didn’t exactly go well. Specifically to avoid the loss of life, I feel that we could act in two specific ways to prevent violence and conflict on our campus.

1. Engage.

I respect the First Amendment, and so should you. Violence happens when words cease to work.

This tactic is only possible under a specific set of circumstances, namely that either the university stipulates that Richard Spencer has to engage in meaningful debate in order to speak on campus (or that he’s open to it for those that come) and we don’t start off the day fearing for our safety (and we all know that’s not exactly a given). If, through this method, our actions cannot devolve into a shouting match with protests outside, those that come to debate should look at his past responses to previous questions — so they don’t end up in one of those “whiny snowflake gets OWNED by Richard Spencer” Facebook videos. Even in the sturdiest of echo chambers, there is a chance that the right words may make some people question their beliefs. Additionally, if y’all are really good debaters, you might catch him off-guard (since one would be expecting a yelling match). To catch him with his pants down in front of his followers would be most pleasurable. Although I’m sure not many prefer for him to come at all, this is also a chance for us to reinforce what we believe in and to truly see, in the flesh, the ideology that many of us rally against. I believe that this is different than from the engagement UF President Kent Fuchs advises us to shy away from, as this is peaceful and educational.

2. Let Richard Spencer preach to the choir.

If that’s not an option at all, as President Fuchs recommends: Do not engage the trolls at all. To engage with them violently and give them media attention is to give them a platform. If Richard Spencer shows up to the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 12 with no fanfare, gives his speech to a room full of people who already think like him, and leaves with not much pomp and circumstance, then I wouldn’t exactly call the event a win or a good investment; it’d be more like an echo chamber party for the local white supremacists — and one would hope that would be a lot less consequential than what happened in Virginia. Different organizations, perhaps religious and cultural organizations, should collaborate to lock down different parts of campus that happen to be far, far away from the Phillips Center and throw free events to draw people away from going to the center. This is a chance for us to celebrate the diversity that makes our school so great while depriving the trolls the very thing they seek. Although it’s tempting to give a Nazi an “alternative handshake” to the face, sometimes silence is the loudest scream. To have no response at this terrible event (while we party it up elsewhere), might be our strongest response. If you happen to be part of an organization that may be interested in this, please reach out to me via email ([email protected]) or Facebook.

This is not worth losing your life over. If you’re going to protest, protest now, so this event never happens in the first place. Mobilize all that you can and make sure to do it in a safe and legally protected manner. The First Amendment goes both ways.

The reality of what happened at the University of Virginia does not have to be the reality of the University of Florida. We are the principal actors when it comes to this – and I urge you to utilize all nonviolent methods possible in your actions while preserving the right to free speech.

Zachariah Chou is the Student Government senator (Independent) for Infinity Hall.


Editor’s note: Zachariah Chou formerly worked as a paid photographer for the Alligator.