White nationalist and alt-right leader Richard Spencer is a white supremacist who promotes the idea that white people are dispossessed, oppressed, and at risk of having their culture destroyed; he believes there should be a nation of only white people. In addition, he believes that people who reside in Europe and predominantly white countries should undergo “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” Ethnic cleansing is “the expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity” (Merriam Webster)—and there are people of color on campus, both domestic and international, students belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, and many others in groups his campaign targets. Last year, he was denied when he requested to speak at MSU, and when it was announced he would not be visiting East Lansing, many students rejoiced and were relieved that the man behind the violent Charlottesville Rally of August 2017 would not able to incite an oppressive and violent atmosphere on campus.
In retaliation, Spencer sued Michigan State University for violating the first amendment, claiming that the university “suppressed” his freedom of speech by denying him a platform. While the first amendment does protect freedom of speech, it does not protect the following: defamation, obscenity, plagiarism, invasion of privacy, and inciting insurrection and hate speech. Much of what Spencer espouses does sound like hate he promotes the ethnic cleansing of European nations, among other ideologies. However, according to some judges, there is no evidence to show that Spencer has ever advocated violence. In addition, any actions that occurred after his speeches are technically not his responsibility.
MSU and Richard Spencer settled the matter of him speaking on campus outside of court. On March 5, 2018, an event of his will be held at the MSU Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education. According to former MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, “This agreement was based on the university’s requirement that the event occur on a date and at a venue that minimizes the risk of violence or disruption to campus.” The news was not announced to the students or faculty via the Board of Trustees or other channels. Instead, people have been informed through social media and word of mouth. A month or so after the agreement was made, anti-protest posters have turned up on campus.
I am aware that for minorities, this sounds very disturbing, considering that many of the alt-right members and Klansmen who attend his speeches have a high potential of being violent afterwards. However, there seems to be a divide within the MSU community regarding whether he should be allowed to speak.
I asked Assistant Professor Divya Victor, “As a person of color, how did you feel about Richard Spencer coming to campus?”
She replied, “As a POC and as an American, his visit fills me with dread. During a time when students already feel betrayed by the administration, this sends the signal that the university does not protect students or the community which it serves, but only itself. I fear for my POC students and colleagues, my LGBTQ+ students and colleagues. I see this as a sign for the descent into acquiescence. While I will defend his right to free speech, I will protest and challenge his privilege in exercising hate speech.”
MSU student Christian Perry, who understands the alt-right to be “An American born terrorist organization that believes in the ‘white state’ and neo-nazi American nationalism,” said that not only are he and his peers infuriated by the upcoming event but also believe those who choose to disinvolve themselves from the matter are “complicit in the oppression [Spencer] promotes.”
However, another student, John Bloom*, looked at the situation from another perspective. “The student body seems mostly not okay with it, but I am okay with it. Not that I agree with him, but we have to let people speak what they want to say, and just because we don’t agree with it, does not mean we should be allowed to tell him no.”
On the day of his event, there will be rally supporters and anti-protesters. Despite the fact that the event is taking place when there are fewer students on campus, there is still a chance that another Charlottesville incident could occur, causing people to be severely injured or worse. Regardless of what anyone chooses to do, I must implore you to be safe and responsible in your actions. Do not address an opposing side with violence but with conversation and an olive branch.
I understand that it is painful and terrifying to live feeling as though your very existence is threatened. You are not alone. If you feel you must protest, then protest. If you feel you must stand up to Spencer and his supporters, do so. But our problems will not be diminished by simple opposition. They are overcome by the bonds we share with one another. So, whatever you do, please do it with all of your effort and strong belief in humanity.
We are Spartans, we are students, and we are the example for the next generation.
*Student preferred to stay anonymous.
Desharra Alexander-Self is a senior majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing and minoring in Japanese. Some of the things she enjoys is Tumblr, Japanese/Korean media, video games, DIY beauty videos, free food and finding random things to be excited about (like sheep, mythology and Italian literature). You can follow her on social media under @Queen_Aelise.