With the election of President Donald Trump, we have seen racism rise to the level of respectability.
Under the threat of a federal lawsuit, UF President Kent Fuchs has agreed to let white supremacist Richard Spencer speak at UF on Thursday. As a UF faculty member and the mother of a UF student, I strongly disagree with Fuchs’ decision to let Spencer hold this event.
We all know Spencer’s desires for ethnic cleansing and for the U.S. to be a white nation. He stated, for instance, “Martin Luther King Jr., a fraud and degenerate in his life, has become the symbol and cynosure of White Dispossession and the deconstruction of Occidental civilization.”
He also stated, “Our dream is a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans. It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.” He doesn’t believe in equality but in white superiority and has emphatically stated, “All men are created unequal.”
UF’s decision was based on the First Amendment which allows hate speech, but there are forms of speech that are not protected. These include speech that presents imminent physical danger and disrupts UF’s mission to educate.
UF’s website states: “We cannot prohibit groups or individuals from speaking in our public forums except for limited exceptions, which include safety and security. Our decision to disallow the September event was based on specific threats and a date that fell soon after the Charlottesville event. Allowing Spencer to speak in October provided additional time to make significant security arrangements.”
But safety and security have been already compromised. The website acknowledges this, as it states, “We understand that this event and possible protest provokes fear, especially for members of our Gator family who are targets of messages of hate and violence simply because of their skin color, religion, culture, sexual orientation or beliefs. Faculty have been asked to be understanding with students on a case-by-case basis. However, faculty should not cancel classes without consulting with their Dean.”
Clearly, faculty have to excuse students who fear for their safety by attending classes Thursday. By the same token, faculty and staff who fear for their safety should not be forced to work that day. What this amounts to is an admission that Spencer’s visit is completely interrupting the educational mission of UF, but nevertheless UF is allowing him to come.
Indeed, UF has announced the Departments of Entomology and Nematology will be closed Thursday because of their proximity to the Phillips Center for Performing Arts, located at 3201 Hull Road. The Counseling & Wellness Center, located at 3190 Radio Road, will also be closed. It is exactly the kind of disruption which is not covered by the First Amendment.
Despite the fact UF has increased its security, there is no guarantee everyone will be safe. “Alt-right” followers shot someone at the University of Washington, stabbed two people to death in Portland, Oregon, stabbed to death a college senior in Maryland, beaten nonviolent protesters at the University of Virginia and most recently murdered a protester in Charlottesville, Virginia.
UF simply cannot expose the almost 50,000 Student Body and 3,000 staff and faculty to this kind of danger, nor can UF afford the lawsuits that would surely ensue if a single student is hurt.
Having University Police, Gainesville Police, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Highway Patrol and other agencies provide the $500,000 for security is outrageous. This is taxpayer money, and surely they should not have to pay for the disruption this event is causing. The Harn Museum of Art, located at 3259 Hull Road, and the Florida Museum of Natural History, located at 3215 Hull Road, which are both facilities used by the community at large, are going to be closed Thursday, and the community is paying to give up its rights to use these public facilities.
It would be in the best interest of the safety of the community of Gainesville and its economic interests to not allow Spencer to come.
Malini Schueller is a UF professor in the Department of English.