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“As a public university, UC is obligated by law to rent space on campus to external people no matter who they are,” Father Michael Graham, president, said. “They couldn’t have done anything to prevent it.
“In a perfect world, someone like Richard Spencer would not exist,” Graham said.
Some universities are, however, not allowing Spencer to speak on campus, and they are being met with legal challenges.
Spencer’s upcoming UC visit has caused distress in Xavier’s community, too. As a private institution, Fr. Graham Xavier is not obligated to host Spencer like UC, but he encourages the campus community to challenge its thinking.
“The point of the university is that students, faculty and staff are challenged to think beyond their comfort zones,” Graham said. “The movement toward safe spaces, trigger warnings, etc. must never nullify this basic responsibility of a university education.”
With the understanding that to remain silent is to be the opposition according to members of students and faculty, a collection of events both planned and spontaneous have already unfolded in light of the announcement that Richard Spencer is confirmed to speak at the University of Cincinnati (UC) in January.
Two events occurred back-to-back, both open to the public. The first was Courageous Conversations on Monday, a biweekly discussion led by Associate Director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) Dr. Kyra Shahid. While the focus of the event varies each meeting, Monday’s discussion was titled “Healthy ways to Disagree.”
Although never referring directly to Richard Spencer or his specific rhetoric, Shahid laid the foundation for how to have healthy conversations with others. One exercise that quickly set the tone for the attendants was when she asked everyone around to define the word “conversation.”
While most shared common ideas about the term, Shahid said, “You may assume that the person you’re talking to operates under the same definition of conversation, but they do not.” In essence, people have conversations with others based on the definition that they have come to understand. If that definition doesn’t match the other person’s, then there is suddenly a rift in understanding between both parties.
In the exploration of tweets highlighting the difference between hate speech and free speech and how to always show respect even in the face of disrespect, Shahid encouraged attendees to engage in dialogue both with themselves and with those they would consider to be traditionally outside of their comfortable circles.
This conversation carried on into last night’s “Responses to Hate” forum, organized by — among several professors and faculty from the CDI — Taj Smith, who posed the questions to which many sought answers: Why was he coming to Cincinnati? Why was he coming to UC?
After a brief background on Richard Spencer’s early life, career and political personality given by history professor Dr. Randy Browne gave his insight behind his motives.
“Why is he coming to UC? The alt-right targets college campuses and college towns because they seem to represent everything the alt-right is against: diversity, tolerance, social justice, and progressive values. Also, college students are curious and often willing to entertain new, even radical, ideas,” he explained. “These visits are not only about recruiting followers, they’re also publicity stunts: Spencer provokes predictably strong reactions, which allow him to adopt the posture of white victim—especially when universities try to prohibit him from speaking—who claims that his first amendment right to free speech is being violated and that “political correctness” is to blame. His UC visit is part of a larger college campus speaking tour; he’s visited the University of Florida, Auburn, Texas A&M, and the University of Virginia, where, during a “Unite the Right” rally that attracted more than 500 white supremacists, one man murdered counter-protester Heather Heyer. To be clear: these visits are meant to intimidate his opponents, advocate white supremacy, and incite racial violence.”
Four panelists — Savin Matozzi, Deena Dakhiel, Ihsan Walker and Courtney Ambielli — representatives of various identity groups on campus, had the opportunity to offer their insights and experiences.
Walker laughed when the host of the panel, Eduardo Patron, asked how Richard Spencer and the environment he’s bringing with him is affecting students.
“My question is honestly where do I start?” Walker said. “Being Black, it’s all over the place. Even just in general the hate that he breathes is very offensive. We can all identify with hatred.”
Spencer’s rhetoric and his attempt to make hate “normal” hits personally on many different levels for Walker and Dakhiel.
“Once people know my identity, that’s when I feel threatened. When they see my name, it’s Deena Dakhiel. That’s other,” Dakhiel said.
Attendees had the opportunity to ask the panelists questions, and even associate dean and history professor Dr. Rachel Chrastil stood and asked how she as a professor could help students in this tense climate. One audience member advised her to make available resources apparent to students, the CDI being just one example.
“The point of tonight is to inform yourself,” Smith said shortly after the event’s conclusion.
Know the facts before jumping into things, and take action based on that — whatever the individual is most comfortable with, be it a demonstration in the streets or a quiet dialogue such as last night’s “Response to Hate” forum.